A teachers union that endorsed Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) is suing the state of Louisiana to restrict funding for charter schools.
The Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) filed a lawsuit in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge on Monday that would eliminate $60 million for dozens of schools.
The lawsuit attacks charters as insufficiently "public," and bemoans that school systems, and teachers unions, have "no control whatsoever" over charter schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately run.
"While charter schools are defined by statute as ‘public schools,’ charter schools lack many of the attributes of ‘public schools’ and, in Louisiana, are specifically exempted from many of the statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to the public schools that are operated by parish and city school boards," the lawsuit said.
The LAE is attacking the funding stream of charter schools in the same manner that the state’s school voucher program was scrutinized. Teachers unions successfully forced the Louisiana Scholarship Program to be funded separately from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), which currently funds charters and public schools.
"The illegal use of MFP funds to pay for [Board of Elementary and Secondary Education] BESE-approved charter schools has had a devastating impact on city and parish school boards," said LAE President Debbie Meaux. "We must put an end to these unconstitutional practices so that local school boards receive the MFP funds that they need to education all students in Louisiana."
Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White said the lawsuit is merely a "money grab" by the unions.
"The goal of this lawsuit is to stop taxpaying parents from choosing the school they think is best for their children," he said in a statement. "It's a money grab. More money for unions and school boards, less for public schools not overseen by unions and school boards."
School choice groups also criticized the LAE’s effort.
"We believe this lawsuit is yet another effort by a teachers’ union to litigate its way to an end that ultimately is about protecting the organized interests of adults and not the interests of children," said Kenneth Campbell, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). The Center for Education Reform said the lawsuit is " yet another veiled attempt at maintaining power and control over education funding under the guise of accountability."
A report released Wednesday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that Louisiana has the second strongest charter school system in the country. Students in charters perform higher in reading and math, according to the report, which cited data from 2011, the most recent available.
The LAE also supported a failed attempt in the state legislature earlier this year to place limits on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s ability to authorize new charter schools.
The teachers union endorsed Sen. Landrieu last month, saying the democrat "understands the needs of Louisiana’s public school system."
"Senator Landrieu is fighting for high-quality schools for every child in Louisiana, and she knows we must invest in schools that prepare our kids to compete in the global marketplace, which is why she is the clear choice of the teachers and education support professionals we represent," said Meaux, the chair of the LAE’s Fund for Children & Public Education.
"As a member of the U.S. Senate, Landrieu always stands up for Louisiana’s schools and students," Meaux said. "Her opponent, I’m sorry to say, gets failing grades from Louisiana educators."
Landrieu, who is co-chair of the Senate Public Charter School Caucus, welcomed the endorsement, saying it proves her "strong record of supporting Louisiana teachers and students."
"I could not be more pleased to receive the endorsement of the LAE Fund for Children & Public Education," Landrieu said. "This endorsement is particularly important because the association represents Louisiana students, teachers, and school employees, and Louisiana needs to have a strong education system to stay competitive in the global market."
Rep. Bill Cassidy’s (R., La.) campaign sharply criticized the endorsement and the group’s efforts against charter schools.
"You know a person by their friends. Mary Landrieu's friends are union officials who are against parents trying to help their children get a better education," said campaign spokesman John Cummins. "Without protest, she has accepted the LAE endorsement and supported Attorney General Eric Holder, who filed a lawsuit trying to prevent Louisiana children from receiving vouchers."
"Dr. Cassidy stands with parents who want a better future for their children," he added. "In the Senate he will be a strong advocate for school choice, fighting to make sure that parents have the freedom to make the right choices for their children."
A request for comment was not returned by the Landrieu campaign.