Louisiana charter applications decline

The state has received fewer applications this year from those seeking to open new charter schools, but that’s partly due to more applicants trying their luck with local school boards, which historically have been hostile to charters.

A spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, Barry Landry, said the agency has worked hard to persuade charter management organizations to consider setting up schools outside of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the areas most in demand until now, and to work with local school districts.

The state released copies of the 22 applications submitted by the March 7 deadline.

Last year, 35 groups submitted applications to the state; 17 were approved.

This year’s crop includes eight who want to open schools in New Orleans and five who are looking to do business in Baton Rouge.

Most want to start operations in fall 2015, but a couple of groups plan to wait until later, in one case as late as 2019.

Several applicants also are interested in Monroe and Shreveport.

There are charter applicants interested in starting schools in St. Helena, St. James and Tangipahoa parishes.

Applicants range from first-timers to nonprofits connected to for-profit charter school organizations that run dozens of schools already. Sixteen of the 22 applicants are interested only in starting elementary schools, in most cases serving kindergarten to eighth grade.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via a contract, or charter.

Louisiana awards charters only to nonprofit boards, but those boards can then hire for-profit companies to run their schools, which at least three of the new applicants are planning to do. Those for-profit companies are Charter Schools USA, EdFutures Inc. and National Heritage Academies. They are based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Carlsbad, Calif.; and Grand Rapids, Mich., respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, 12 of the 22 applicants are looking for permission to start their first charter school, though many of the leaders have run or worked with charter schools in the past.

Landry said the state does not keep track of local applications but is expecting that at least 22 more applications have been filed with local school districts, a shift from the past when more applications were submitted to the state.

Besides likely better reception from the state, charter school groups had more potential school properties to choose from in the past, thanks to state takeovers.

This year, though, the pickings are slim. New Orleans saw all of its charter schools that were up for renewal last year meet their contract targets. In Baton Rouge, a number of schools improved their F grades and found themselves out of harm’s way.

Those charter organizations that applied with the state will have their applications decided by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Aug. 13. SchoolWorks, of Boston, is evaluating the applications and will release its final recommendations to the state by June 23.

Local school districts also have to employ a third-party evaluator to look at their applications, though the evaluator need not be SchoolWorks.

Their school boards have until June 5 to vote on their applicants. Those rejected can appeal. BESE will decide the appeals on Oct. 15.

In a change from the past, applicants to the state will have one more chance to improve their applications.

Based on feedback they receive from SchoolWorks, they will have until May 12 to improve their applications.

National Heritage Academies already runs or has approval to run a handful of schools in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas. It is asking for permission to start 12 more between 2015 and 2019.

The company wants to start two more schools each in Baton Rouge, Jefferson Parish, Lake Charles, Monroe and Shreveport. It also wants to start a school in St. Landry Parish and in an undetermined D- or F-rated school district in Louisiana.

Charter Schools USA, which also has schools running or approved in several metro areas, is seeking to start new schools in Monroe and Shreveport in 2015.

EdFutures Inc. is seeking to open a new school in Monroe, its second in that city. The company also has a school opening in the fall in Shreveport. All of its schools focus on math, science and technology. EdFutures wants to open a total of 10 schools in Louisiana by 2017.

Ultimately, it seeks to have three elementary, two middle and one high school in every market it serves.

Algiers Charter School Association, formed in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, wants to expand beyond the schools it serves on the west bank in New Orleans. It is seeking permission to take over the management of clusters of schools, serving kindergarten to 12th grade.

It is focusing on Baton Rouge and Shreveport.

Three of the 22 state applicants this year developed their applications via a Boston-based fellowship program known as Building Excellent Schools.

Two applied to start new schools in Baton Rouge and one in New Orleans. Two would be elementary schools, and one would be a combination middle and high school serving fifth through 12th grades, an uncommon grade configuration.