Bill to limit charter school growth clears committee

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- John Bel Edwards addresses the LSU Faculty senate about the future of higher education in Louisiana in this December 2013 Advocate file photo. Show caption
Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- John Bel Edwards addresses the LSU Faculty senate about the future of higher education in Louisiana in this December 2013 Advocate file photo.

The state’s top school board would be prohibited from authorizing charter schools in districts rated A, B or C under a bill that won narrow approval Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

The vote was 8-7.

The proposal, House Bill 703, would apply in cases where the charter school was rejected by the local school board.

The measure next faces action in the full House.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and sponsor of the plan, said the change would reward school districts that are operating well under Louisiana’s letter-grade system.

Edwards said it is arrogant for “big government in Baton Rouge” to authorize charter school applications “after they have already been rejected by good-performing local school districts.”

Stafford Palmieri, an aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal, opposed the bill.

“I just think we need to remember that parents need choices in every district and parents make choices for lots of different reasons,” she said.

An official of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, Veronica Brooks, also criticized the bill.

“Last time I checked, those who are happy with their school don’t leave,” Brooks said. “They just don’t.”

Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.

They are supposed to offer innovative classrooms without much of the red tape that accompanies traditional public schools.

Backers say they offer families valuable educational options.

Opponents contend the schools have failed to deliver on the promises.

The same committee rejected another Edwards bill that would prohibit students in public schools rated C to qualify for vouchers.

Under current rules, students who attend schools rated C, D or F can qualify for state aid to attend private schools if they meet income and other requirements.

“A C school is not a failing school,” Edwards told the committee.

Palmieri also opposed that proposal, which is House Bill 701,

She said that, contrary to what Edwards said, students who attend C-rated schools can only qualify for vouchers if there is room after demand is met from students who attend D- and F-rated schools.

Officials of the state Department of Education and the Louisiana Federation of Children also opposed the legislation.

The bill failed when six representatives voted for the bill and ten voted against it.