DOE: 35 groups apply for charter schools

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING --  Second grade teacher Dixie Harris-Gordon, left, calls on Jabriah Lanus, 8, far right, during a discussion last week of the solar system at Lanier Elementary. Lanier is one of seven schools in north Baton Rouge operated by the state-run Recovery School District slated to be converted into charter schools in 2014 and 2015.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Second grade teacher Dixie Harris-Gordon, left, calls on Jabriah Lanus, 8, far right, during a discussion last week of the solar system at Lanier Elementary. Lanier is one of seven schools in north Baton Rouge operated by the state-run Recovery School District slated to be converted into charter schools in 2014 and 2015.

Thirty-five organizations submitted applications to start about 100 new charter schools in 19 parishes in Louisiana, the state Department of Education reported Thursday.

The organizations turned their applications in by the May 1 deadline and are seeking to open their new schools in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

Twenty-two of the applicants want to start schools in East Baton Rouge Parish — the most applications to open charter schools in Baton Rouge since the mid-’90s, when the state first authorized the creation of the charter schools.

Orleans and Jefferson parishes tied for second place with eight organizations applying in each of the parishes. New Orleans has the highest percentage of children in charter schools in the U.S.

Baker and Caddo Parish were next with four applicants each.

Baker is a D ranked school district. In 2012, the Legislature allowed charter school groups to bypass school boards in D and F ranked districts if they wanted to form Type 2 charters, schools that can enroll students from anywhere in the state.

Of the 35 applicants, 19 are based in Louisiana and 16 are from out-of-state.

The applicants will be evaluated over the summer by an external evaluator, SchoolWorks, based in Beverly, Mass. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will approve new charters starting in August, which is earlier than the board has in the years past.

Charter schools are public schools run privately.

John White, state superintendent of education, said the increase in applicants is connected to recruiting efforts by state and local groups, including New Schools for Baton Rouge, along with changes in state law that streamlined the application process.

“This is certainly a more intentionally recruited set of applicants, both from within the state and from outside of the state,” White said.

Officials with New Schools for Baton Rouge, which was formed in early 2012, pointed Thursday to seven prominent charter management organizations that it has recruited to apply to start schools in Baton Rouge, according to a news release.

Those organizations are: Celerity Educational Group, based in Los Angeles; Collegiate Academies, based in New Orleans; Democracy Prep Public Schools, based in New York City; Family Urban Schools of Excellence or FUSE, based in Hartford, Conn; Green Dot Public Charter Schools, based in Los Angeles; Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP, based in San Francisco; and YES Prep Public Schools, based in Houston.

New Schools also announced that it is hiring a team of LSU researchers, which will be led by George Noell, to evaluate the new charter applicants in Baton Rouge, including the ones it recruited.

New Schools will use the results of the evaluations to determine which will be asked to tap into a $30 million support fund the organization is raising.

Noell, a psychology professor, is best known for leading the effort to create Louisiana’s value-added test score measurement system.

In 2012, 34 charter groups applied, but they wanted to start fewer schools, 53, in fewer places, 12 parishes.

Most of the 22 new groups interested in setting up shop in Baton Rouge are seeking Type 5 charters. There are seven campuses in north Baton Rouge that are eligible for Type 5 charters, all of them controlled by the state-run Recovery School District. They are schools that were formerly run by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

White said he’s not concerned about finding space for these schools. He also noted that given the number of D and F schools in Baton Rouge, the number of schools eligible to become Type 5 charters is likely to grow over time.

“We are not going to limit the applications because there are concerns about space,” he said. “That is the best problem we can have. We’re in need of great schools.”

Nine of the organizations applying in Baton Rouge are interested not just in Type 5, but
in other types of charter schools.

At least two firms with charters already in Baton Rouge, Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies, want to expand. Both want multiple new locations. Charter Schools USA is looking to expand into Baker as well as East Baton Rouge, Iberville and Lafayette. National Heritage Academies is looking to branch out into five more school districts, including Baker as well as East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Lafayette parishes.

A charter school management group new to Louisiana, Dayton, Ohio-based, Richard Allen Schools, wants four school districts: Baker and East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana and Iberville parishes.

The state Department of Education released a list of the 35 applicants but offer limited information on each and would not release copies of their applications.

The Advocate submitted a public records request late Thursday, seeking to inspect the applications.