Overriding the recommendation of a national evaluation group, Louisiana’s top school board Wednesday gave conditional approval for a new charter school in Baton Rouge that would serve students with dyslexia.
Dyslexia impairs the ability to read.
The school, which will be called Louisiana Key Academy, includes Dr. Laura Cassidy, who is the wife of U.S. Rep. William Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, as the president of its board.
A team of experts from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which the state uses to review applications, said the plan should be rejected because of leadership problems.
In a written report, a three-person panel said the proposed school leader lacked vital experience and “did not demonstrate the type of initiative necessary to learn the myriad of details required to successfully run a public school.”
But officials of the state Department of Education urged BESE to approve the application subject to finding a leader that meets state requirements.
In a report to BESE, department officials said the application met every standard set by the review team except school leadership.
“The board has demonstrated capacity to oversee a school leader and should therefore be given the opportunity to provide a school leader for review,” state education officials said in their report.
BESE’s approval is contingent on state officials agreeing on a leader for the school in February.
Dr. Laura Cassidy said Wednesday she was pleased by BESE’s vote.
“We are confident we will find a principal,” she said, adding that officials here are being helped by a Houston group.
Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards.
They are supposed to offer alternatives to traditional public schools, including innovative missions and teaching methods.
About 57,000 students attend the 104 charter schools that operate now.
Teacher union leaders and other critics contend charter schools drain dollars from traditional schools, and arguments over proposed and existing charter schools sparked arguments before a BESE committee until about 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
The school plans to open for the 2013-14 school year and be located south of LSU’s central campus.
It would initially serve 186 students in grades kindergarten through second grade.
Officials hope to have 412 students in grades K-5 by the 2016-17 school year, draw students from East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes and that half of the enrollment would be children who qualify for free and reduced lunches, which is a sign of family poverty.
BESE also approved a second charter school for students in grades K-8.
It will be called the East Baton Rouge Charter Academy and is under Charter Schools USA, which already operates two charter schools in Lake Charles.
In a report to BESE, state education officials said Charter Schools USA has a good track record with K-8 charter schools in Florida.
However, the state panel, also at the urging of department officials, rejected plans for another charter school — called North Baton Rouge Charter Academy — that would have been run by the same group.
The issue sparked controversy Tuesday on BESE’s School Innovation and Turnaround Committee.
But state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday that, after discussions on Tuesday night, he and others held to their original view that the application should be denied.
State officials said Charter Schools USA has not proven that it can operate multiple schools serving high-needs populations outside of Florida.