New law that allows direct application to BESE cited
Applications for new charter schools shot up by five times this year, mostly because of a new state law aimed at helping Louisiana’s lowest-performing school districts, officials said.
A record 26 new requests have been filed with the state’s top school board, up from five last year.
In addition, 23 other applications were filed to run schools placed under state control or to replace former operators, according to the state Department of Education.
State education leaders said the increase is spurred largely by the fact that applicants from districts rated D or F can now apply directly to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Caroline Roemer Shirley, president of Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said Monday some charter operators filed because they feel chances are better for approval than when they had to win permission from often hostile local school boards.
“When you have to go to the district, in most places in the state, that is a pretty hostile environment,” Shirley said.
“The chances of being approved are pretty slim,” she said.
Some local school board members see charter schools as a threat to traditional public schools.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.
They are touted as a way to offer novel classroom methods without much of the red tape common in traditional public schools.
The state has 104 such schools with about 45,000 students in 15 parishes, including East Baton Rouge.
Louisiana has about 1,300 traditional public schools and roughly 700,000 students.
Of 70 school districts, 27 are rated D and F.
Critics contend charters have often failed to deliver on promises and siphoned crucial state aid dollars from their traditional counterparts.
State officials are sifting through the applications — some are voluminous — before they are placed on the state education department’s website, said Barry Landry, spokesman for the agency.
One proposal, called the Louisiana Key Academy, would be aimed at students with dyslexia.
“It is a need not being addressed,” said Dr. Laura Cassidy, president of the board seeking the charter and the wife of U. S. Rep. William Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
The law is part of a series of steps pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and backed by the Legislature earlier this year, designed to increase the number of charter schools statewide.
In the past direct appeals to BESE to open charter schools were rare, mostly because operators failed to win approval from a local school board.
“A lot of people were deterred,” Shirley said.
“Now there is an opportunity to go to an authorizer (BESE), which is seen as more friendly than not, more open-minded to charters,” she said.
Charter changes approved by state lawmakers earlier this year were part of Act 2, which is best known for setting up a statewide voucher system.
But the law also requires local school boards to use the same timelines, standards and common applications as BESE; eliminated a rule that most charter school teachers have to be certified and expands authority to approve charters to community groups, nonprofits and universities that win state approval.
In a prepared statement, BESE President Penny Dastugue praised the increase in applications.
“We look forward to accelerating this growth through this new process, which seeks to locate quality school operators to serve communities with the biggest educational needs,” Dastugue said.
BESE is set to decide on the applications in December.