Bill to curb state-approved charter schools rejected

A bill that would place curbs on state-authorized charter schools was rejected Thursday by the Senate Education Committee.

The measure, House Bill 703, passed the House last month 58-40.

But after nearly two hours of testimony a motion to shelve the measure won committee approval without objection.

Under current law, charter school applicants who are turned down by local school boards can seek authorization from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The bill would curtail BESE’s ability to approve those applications in cases where they come from school districts rated A, B or C and where the local board has rejected the bid.

“This is a bill designed to give more autonomy to local school districts that are performing well,” said state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite and sponsor of the plan.

Edwards said the measure stemmed in part from controversy in Lafayette Parish, a B-rated school district where the local board rejected several charter school applications later approved by BESE.

Hunter Beasley, president of the Lafayette panel, urged the committee to approve the proposed new rules.

“When you take the ability of the local district to make decisions for the children of their parish and move it to individuals in Baton Rouge or wherever else it might be, that is a problem of mine,” Beasley told the committee.

Opponents argued that, even in districts rated A, B or C, students may be stuck in an F-rated public school and need options.

Veronica Brooks, policy director for the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, was among opponents who urged the panel to reject the legislation.

Brooks said that about 117,000 students attend schools rated D and F by the state even though the district where they are located is classified as A, B or C.

“It is an anti-charter, anti-choice bill that will limit families’ options to get out of D and F schools and have options for better schools that serve their students’ needs,” she said.

State Superintendent of Education John White, who opposed the bill, said the current appeals process for charter schools resulted in one that serves about 100 students with dyslexia in Thibodaux.

Backers of the bill included the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana School Boards Association.

Opponents included BESE President Chas Roemer and officials of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

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

They are supposed to offer innovative approaches without the redtape seen in many traditional public schools.

The state has about 115 of the schools.

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