Charter Schools Under Major Legislative Attack this Session

This legislative session a number of high-profile bills dealing with various aspects of public charter schools have been introduced. When the body of that legislation is considered as a whole, the direction it attempts to move Louisiana is clear – away from CABL’s goal of providing meaningful options to parents, students and taxpayers who feel that their local school districts are not providing the quality of education they desire.

From CABL’s perspective they fall into three major categories:

BESE Approval of Charter Schools

This year there are several bills that seek to limit BESE’s ability to authorize charter schools over the objections of local school boards. All of these bills are basically attempts to put the desires of school boards above the needs of the students they are there to serve.

Those bills getting the most attention generally prohibit BESE from approving a charter school in an “A” or “B” school district when the school board has already denied the request. The suggestion there is that parental options for a better quality education are unnecessary if the school district receives an “A” or “B” grade. The facts strongly show otherwise.

Louisiana has 40 “A” and “B” school districts and within those districts are 124 schools with a letter grade of “D” or “F.” That is a significant number of low-performing schools in districts that are deemed to be high-performing.

But the problem is even deeper. Louisiana’s “A” and “B” school districts also have 201 “C”’ rated schools. A “C” school may seem modestly okay – average – but these schools mask some real issues for children. In Louisiana, a full third of the students in “C” elementary schools read below the minimum “basic” skills level. Another third read only at the minimum level. The situation is even worse when it comes to math.

What that means is that most of the young students in “C” schools are not learning language or math skills at the level that is considered proficient by the rest of the nation, nor are they grasping what they need to fully succeed in the next grade. This tells us is that in Louisiana there are many thousands ofchildren who may reside in “A” or “B” school districts, but who are not getting the education they need to succeed. They and their parents need choices too.

For-Profit Charter School Operators

There is also legislation in the governor’s education package to prohibit charter schools from contracting with a for-profit entity to manage or operate a public charter school. On the face of things, this might seem to be an appealing concept, but it fails to take into account several realities involving both charter schools and the nature of public education in general.

The first is that every charter school is overseen by a nonprofit board of community volunteers who are responsible for the success of their schools. The fact that in some cases they choose to contract with a for-profit provider to operate the school or run back office operations should be of no consequence. The truth is that public schools in districts across the state already contract with a wide variety of for-profit vendors to provide needed services. It is part of the normal course of delivering public education.

In fact, the list of for-profit vendors enlisted by some public schools is almost endless. They include things such as food service, janitorial service, garbage collection, curriculum development, tests, textbooks and computers. They are also used to provide assistance in areas such as specialized testing, helping special needs students on an individualized basis, and tutoring.

It is also worth noting that some of the for-profit charter schools have developed business models that allow them to build brand new school buildings, sometimes in districts that have not seen a new school building in decades. And despite their for-profit status, many also have waiting lists of students whose parents want to enroll them in these schools.

That, in and of itself, speaks to the continuing demand for a wider variety of educational choices in many parts of the state. It is inappropriate for the government to limit the types of vendors charter schools can contract with to deliver a quality education just as it is to deny school districts the flexibility to obtain the outside services they need. The issue should not be about what entity delivers a high-quality education to students, but rather, if they are succeeding in doing that. 

Charter School Funding

It should be noted that there are also a number of additional bills this session that deal with money issues surrounding charter schools. They take a variety of approaches, but generally they all represent attacks on charter schools which are mostly intended to decrease their funding and ultimately make it more difficult for them to succeed.

From CABL’s perspective this is unfortunate. The purpose of public education is to educate children. Limiting the avenues to do that and constructing barriers that take away options from parents is counterproductive. Charter schools should continue to be accountable for results and face consequences if they fail to perform. But their financial resources should not be withdrawn because some feel threatened by the fact that a great many of them actually succeed.

In summary, charter schools bring something unique to public education. They have the freedom and autonomy to do different things and make decisions in the best interests of children. They also bring a degree of competition into the education arena that can only be a positive for students.

School districts portray charter schools as entities that are taking both state and local dollars away from them. But it is important to remember that the children that attend charter schools are citizens of the state and the parish where they attend school. Their parents’ state and local tax dollars are going to support a local school. The teachers who receive their salaries are public school teachers.

In short, charter schools are all a part of Louisiana’s public education system. They offer additional options for parents and students who often have no other options. It is CABL’s belief that charter schools be approved or rejected – and then stand or fall – based on their merits, their outcomes and what they can do to help children attain a quality education.

That is why it is regrettable that many of the legislative initiatives this session seek to undermine charter schools and stifle educational options for Louisiana families. Charter schools need to be held accountable for results, but they should not be denied the opportunity to succeed.