Charter school organizations could get financial support

A recruiting and support group for new charter schools in Baton Rouge has identified six charter school organizations that it is likely to award millions of dollars to help offset startup and other costs.

The organizations are Celerity Educational Group, Collegiate Academies, Democracy Prep, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, KIPP New Orleans, and YES Prep Public Schools.

All six are prominent charter management organizations the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education green-lighted earlier this month to form new charter schools in the Baton Rouge area over the next few years.

Chris Meyer, chief executive officer of New Schools for Baton Rouge, which is sitting on $16 million, said his organization will review these groups’ leadership, “plans for transformative change,” finances and their plans to engage the local community.

Once that review is complete, probably in early October, Meyer said his organization will start cutting checks from its Excellence Fund, which the group hopes to eventually grow to about $30 million.

“These are the IBMs of the charter school space,” Meyer said.

These are all schools that Meyer’s group helped recruit to Baton Rouge, so it’s no surprise that they are in line for financial support. But Meyer said it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will get funding from New Schools for Baton Rouge.

The six groups have already surmounted the biggest hurdle New Schools set up, an external review led by LSU psychology professor George Noell, best known for setting up Louisiana’s value-added measurement system that examines individual student academic growth.

“The only question we asked LSU is, ‘How did their schools perform?’” Meyer said.

In May, New Schools had highlighted seven organizations for potential financial support. One of those, Green Dot Charter Schools, based in Los Angeles, failed to make the cut in the LSU study, coming in 13th out of the 16 charter groups rated.

Meyer, however, said New Schools is still talking to Green Dot about other ways to support their work, noting their efforts to turn around high schools, a difficult task.

Meyer’s group also opted not to support six other charter management organizations that BESE has also approved to start new charter schools: Constellation Schools, Charter Schools USA, Friendship Louisiana Inc., Friends of King School, National Heritage Academies and Spirit of Excellence Academy.

“We want to set a bar, so that here in Baton Rouge, in order to get a school you can’t be just a little better than norm, you have to be exceptionally better,” Meyer said.

This fall, the state Department of Education will decide which of these charter schools will get space in the seven schools the state runs in north Baton Rouge. Those seven schools are part of the state-run Recovery School District or RSD. They are the nucleus of what state Superintendent John White has called the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.

Meyer, a former administrator in the state Department of Education, said he expects that many of the six schools that New Schools is supporting are likely to receive RSD space.

Those organizations, however, have big expansion plans and will outgrow those facilities over time.

Meyer said that RSD may add more schools in Baton Rouge over time. He said there’s also property that these organizations can renovate, or they can decide to locate in a different part of Louisiana.

Another option is to set up a low-interest loan construction program for new charter schools, he said.