While teachers unions across the country routinely may challenge school voucher programs in court, the teachers union in Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) has developed a new tactic – bully the schools that accept the vouchers.
The American Federation for Children – the nation’s voice for school choice which is dedicated to empowering families with the ability to take charge of K-12 education choices for their children – today condemned the actions of the LAE.
In a prepared statement, the federation alleges the LAE is bullying small, private schools.
The Louisiana Board of Education shares the federation’s disgust and urges the bullied schools to “ignore the LAE’s absurd actions.”
Private schools in Louisiana received letters this week from Brian Blackwell of the Blackwell & Associates law firm, which represents the state teachers union.
The letter threatened lawsuits for participating in the school choice program signed into Louisiana law this spring.
That law, part of a comprehensive education improvement project called Louisiana Believes, allows low-income parents the chance to pull their kids out of schools that are rated “C,” “D” or “F” and send them via vouchers to schools maintaining an “A” or “B” rating.
The threatening letter sent to private schools across the state gives each school until this weekend to opt out of accepting funding for low income students, or be sued by the teachers union.
“The LAE union threatens to initiate litigation against individual schools if they do not pledge – in writing … to cease participation in the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) program,” says the American Federation for Children.
“The letter comes despite a judge’s ruling two weeks ago that dismissed a union attempt to get an injunction stopping the program,” officials said.
The LAE union issued a statement saying that the organization had an attorney send the letter to voucher schools asking them to hold off on using money until the legal challenge is complete.
In a press release LAE President Joyce Haynes said that the letter was in no way an attempt at intimidation.
The LAE statement says, “The letter was our way of ensuring that Louisiana students don’t have to pay for the unconstitutional maneuvers made by Gov. Jindal and Superintendent White.”
The letter can be read on the Louisiana Department of Education website, which released the letter to the public along with their statement denouncing it.
Reached by phone today, Joyce Haynes told WND that the LAE intends to follow through with the threat to pursue litigation against schools choosing to spend the state money.
“It’s proven that vouchers don’t improve education,” she told WND
“We are fighting for the 99 percent of families who didn’t apply for scholarships to keep the Department of Education from turning our schools into private businesses.
“We see this law as an attack on public education,” she maintains.
Haynes alleged to WND that John White, who is the superintendent of the Louisiana schools, was brought in from New York specifically to fight this battle for Gov. Jindal.
“He was brought here for everything that has happened to us,” she told WND. “We believe the response seen this week from him was done to intimidate schools into not responding to us.”
White said in a Department of Education statement provided to WND, “Trying to prevent people from doing what’s right for their children is bad enough. Doing it with no basis whatsoever is disgraceful.
“School starts in three weeks. It’s time to put politics behind us and start focusing on our kids,” he said.
Kevin P. Chavous, a senior adviser to the American Federation for Children, denounced the bullying tactics as a remarkably cruel attempt to block children from attending the schools their parents have chosen for them.
“It’s despicable that adults would use the threat of legal action to stop schools from accepting students who desperately want a better education, thereby squashing their dreams and those of their parents,” Chavous said.
“Even by standards of the typical special interest bullying tactics, this is an unbelievably demeaning and insulting action that aims ultimately to hurt the futures of thousands of children.”
Advocates of the Louisiana Scholarship Program say that the law gives parents the opportunity to make the best choice for the educational needs of their children.
The Louisiana Board of Education says that the teachers union was denied a petition in court that sought an injunction against the program and is now using “scare tactics” to get its way, calling the behavior of the union “shameful.”
“A legal representative of a teachers’ union is stooping to sending threatening letters to schools participating in the program warning of legal action for accepting money as part of the program,” said the Louisiana Board of Education.
Penny Dastugue, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education president said, “This is outrageous. We encourage participating schools to ignore the LAE’s absurd actions and to move forward with providing children the opportunity their parents have decided is best for them.”
Blackwell told WND he notified 98 schools, and only two responded. One agreed not to take funds until the union is satisfied, he said.
Chavous, a former D.C. City Council member who has also worked for years to reform education in Louisiana, reiterated that the recent LAE move was unprecedented in its callousness.
“Personal power should never, ever be put ahead of the best interest of disadvantaged children,” Chavous said.
“These union leaders have no shame.”