Types of charter schools discussed
LAFAYETTE — A group that has applied to open charter schools in Lafayette Parish told the School Board on Wednesday that it has signed letters of intent to purchase 8 acres of land in north and south Lafayette to open two schools by next August.
Both parcels are associated with “traditional neighborhood developments.” One is in the planned Couret Farms development and the other in Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville, said Jay Augustine, Louisiana director of charter school development and legal affairs for Charter Schools USA.
The Florida-based company has partnered with a nonprofit group, Lafayette Charter Foundation, and applied to open a total of three “Type 1” charter schools in the parish. Schools of the type receive a share of the district’s per-student funding that comes from the state, just like other schools in the district. However, the charter schools have an independent school board.
Initially, the group’s timeline was to open schools K-8 schools in 2014 and 2015 and a high school in 2017 — but now says it is prepared to open two schools by August 2014.
“We know that a majority of the children failing are on the north side of town,” said Louella Cook, president of the Lafayette Charter Foundation. But, she added, the group also recognizes a need in Youngsville to alleviate overcrowded schools.
“We didn’t say just the children on the north side of town need help. We said what can charter schools do for us, so we can have schools on the north side and the south,” Cook said.
The School Board held a workshop on charter schools Wednesday after delaying a decision at its Aug. 18 meeting on the foundation’s application. The board also discussed a separate application from the nonprofit group, for Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies (Inspire Charter Academy) to open two schools in partnership with National Heritage Academies.
Families, especially those with children at D- or F-rated schools, deserve choices and the charter school is prepared to provide families resources to help their children succeed, said Dionne Davis-Green, a Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies board member.
Erin Bendily, Louisiana Department of Education assistant superintendent for policy and governmental affairs, provided board members an overview of charter schools at Wednesday’s workshop.
The Lafayette school district’s chief financial officer, Billy Guidry, asked whether Type 1 charter schools, which are eligible for a local school board’s share of local and state funding, would be required to use dedicated tax dollars for the same purpose as the district.
“Those calculations are driven by the language of the MFP,” said Bendily, referring to the state’s formula for calculating per student funding called the Minimum Foundation Program. “That language does say that that per pupil amount follows the children.”
This fiscal year, the school district’s per pupil funding is about $8,010.
Louisiana School Boards Association executive director Scott Richard asked the board to consider whether it was voters’ intentions for dedicated taxes to be diverted to charter schools.
The Lafayette Parish Association of Educators’ membership opposes the charter school applications and also questions diverting tax money approved by voters to charter schools.
“We believe that approving these charters will hurt our students by diverting millions of dollars in necessary funds,” the association’s chapter president, Rodolfo Espinoza, said in an email.
If the board fails to act on the applications or rejects them, applicants can go to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to seek approval as a Type 2 charter school, with oversight and funding flowing through BESE.
The deadline for decisions on the applications are Sept. 26 for Lafayette Charter Foundation/Charter Schools USA and Oct. 21 for Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies/National Heritage Academies. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled Sept. 18.
As Type 2 charter schools, the schools would not be part of the district’s accountability scores, said Superintendent Pat Cooper.
“So what if all the good kids and academics will go to a charter? If you’re a Type 1, you’re in our count. If you’re a Type 2, those same children don’t get counted in our score,” Cooper said.
As a Type 2 charter school, “we lose the opportunity to be another part of change in the community. We stand on our own,” said Megan DeKraker, a director of new charter school development with National Heritage Academies.
The funding for either school is about the same — so the difference between a Type 1 and Type 2 really boils down to authority, said Michael Faulk, superintendent of Central Community Schools, who was invited to share funding information with the board.
“With a Type 1, you have a lot more say-so. With a Type 2, it’s out of your hands completely,” Faulk said.
Both applicants have proposed working with the school district to build and open schools in the north part of the parish — to address low performance — and in the south part of the parish to address overcrowded schools.
Board member Mark Allen Babineaux asked Bendily if the district could require charter applicants to give enrollment preference to students who attend J.W. Faulk and Alice Boucher Elementary schools. The two schools received an academically unacceptable label from the state based on preliminary student performance scores released this summer.
“I think it would be an important part of the charter contract to address these particular children first,” Babineaux said. “That would be a great concern for me as far as it being part of the charter concept as far as the setup with a Type 1 applications.”
Bendily said law prohibits students being assigned to a school, but it does allow enrollment exceptions to siblings and students who live near the school. During the contract negotiation process, the district may set performance and other requirements, Bendily said.
School Board member Rae Trahan said she’d still prefer the district build its own school, rather than rely on charter schools for new buildings. She also questioned whether the schools would use tax dollars to finance the construction.
Both representatives said their schools use private dollars for land acquisition and construction.