Louisiana charter laws rated third best in U.S.

Louisiana has the nation’s third best laws governing charter schools, according to a report issued Tuesday by a group that backs the schools.

The rating is up from sixth last year and 13th the year before.

The annual rankings were released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which calls itself the leading advocacy organization for charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards.

Backers say they offer innovative classrooms minus the red tape common in traditional public schools.

Opponents call them a drain on state aid for public schools and argue that they have failed to deliver on promises of top-flight academic centers.

Nearly 59,000 students attend charter schools in Louisiana, according to the report.

The state has 117 of the schools, officials said.

Charter schools were authorized in Louisiana in 1995.

New Orleans has one of the largest presence of charter schools in the nation, many of which sprung up after Hurricane Katrina toppled the city’s long-struggling public school system.

About 2.5 million students attend the schools in 43 states.

The report did not attempt to rate the quality of charter schools nationally.

Officials of the group plan to issue such a report in mid-2014.

The rankings are based on how states fared in 20 categories that the group says are “essential components” to a model set of laws.

The list includes whether states impose caps on the number of charter schools, the variety of schools allowed and whether states allow two or more authorizers to approve the schools.

Other issues reviewed include whether applications are transparent, how schools are monitored and student enrollment rules.

Louisiana’s ranking rose by three spots because of what the group called clarifications in state policies and changes in how states are graded.

The report said one area for improvement is charter school access in Louisiana to capital funding and facilities.

The group says the schools should have access to revolving loan programs, a charter school bonding authority and the right of first refusal to buy or lease closed or unused public school facilities. The review says Louisiana laws include just a small number of those provisions.

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said in a prepared statement that the state’s laws stem from teamwork among the governor, state lawmakers and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Minnesota is ranked first nationally for its charter school laws.

Mississippi rose 29 spots from 43 to 14 after that state did a major overhaul of its charter school laws in 2013.