School Choice (A system designed to give frustrated students and parents who can’t afford a private education access to public-based private alternatives) is serving a secondary motive in Louisiana. Choice in Louisiana has become a nightmare for some, with schools blatantly violating federal laws and mandates, cheating on standardized exams and mismanaging federal monies. The State of Louisiana, however, has its share in this growing problem with seemingly deliberate, inadequate oversight of charters and with the allowance of charters to essentially saturate Orleans’ Parish. Because Louisiana has so many levels of public schools and because all those levels can operate charters, it is imperative to understand how education is administered.
What Happened Post Katrina: After Hurricane Katrina, school districts, especially Orleans Parish Public Schools found themselves unable to efficiently operate within the paradigms of No Child Left Behind due to lack of facilities, lack of teaching and support staff, and a considerably smaller student base. It was then that OPSB formally declared that it would not be able to operate under its current circumstances, thus abandoning the school board, its properties, its students, and its parents. The state of Louisiana moved in and seized 102 of the districts historically worst performing schools by moving them into the Recovery School District, which is operated directly from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The OPSB was then reinstated, with the RSD leaving them 26 schools; it was then that OPSB decided to convert 22 of those schools into charter schools. Since then, 12 schools have been moved into the RSD due to low performance. This brought the RSD’s count of OPSB schools to 50+charter schools and further damaged the OPSB equitability.
Choice within Orleans Parish: Since the foundation of the traditional school system had been undermined by the BESE and the RSD, and since OPSB knew that its 4 district run schools and 12 district operated charters would not be sustainable enough to handle the current student population, students are currently allow to enroll in any public school within OPSB limits even if the RSD is the operator.
The Issue with RSD: RSD schools within OPSB jurisdiction have some of the most compelling complaints filed against them for violations of students constitutional and due rights. RSD publicly placed untrained officers on playgrounds and hallways, use handcuffs as a primary method of detention, and are overly aggressive when detaining students. RSD uses a zero tolerance system that removes children from school at alarming rates instead of using alternative methods such as detention or in-school-suspension. In RSD schools, there are 12,871 students system-wide, 6,702 out of school suspensions and 1,016 expulsions during t the ‘08-‘09 school year. Though, for a student base that small, this number may seem somewhat justifiable, it is imperative to note that while student enrollment has declined drastically, expulsions and suspensions have increased drastically. These numbers are no better within RSD charter schools either, with some RSD charter schools opting to remove students for the most simplest of infractions. And, although this has been brought to BESE’s attention by the SLPC, BESE has ignored and disregarded such complaints while frequently citing that school principals have selected the most practical behavioral correction methods for their schools. The RSD even encourages its district run and charted operated schools to use “practical, but stringent” behavioral correction methods, like one KIPP: school that uses monetary fines for students who are late or tardy.
The Issue with Charter Schools in LA: The Center for Education Reform placed Louisiana’s school choice law 19th weakest law out of 41 laws. This in part because BESE has greatly complicated the states charter school process and schools receive a significantly lower per-pupil payment from BESE than their district counterparts. Louisiana also has poor oversight of charters, with some charter school creating the most complex systems to essentially weed out weak students and return them to the RSD or OPSB. Charters have been citied with wanting the best performing students while shunning the weaker performing students and they usual keep the practice afloat by weeding out students after they are admitted, which is a clear violation of federal law. Charters within the RSD and OPSB use methods such as holding out on evaluating students, failing to providing supplemental services to students that demonstrate a clear need for such services, and use “squeeze out” tactics on students who can’t perform adequately. As charter schools received state and federal monies, they must abide by NCLB, IDEA, McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This means that charters have to provide Free Appropriate Public Education since they are publicly funded and if they can’t then they must seek outside services to accommodate such needs of the student. The fact that charters, OPSB, RSD, BESE in Louisiana are allowing students to go uneducated simply because they have learning disabilities and that BESE, RSD, and OPSB are doing nothing to ensure that this doesn’t happen places School Choice in danger within the state and around the country. This inaction, abuse and neglect of children’s educational rights further enforces the ideology that charter operators have no interest in education and are only interested with the federal and state subsidies that come along with them. Louisiana must correct its foundation and strengthen its system of accountability in order to ensure that every child has adequate access to free, appropriate, equitable education. Failure for the State of Louisiana to rectify this great travesty will result in generations of Louisianan children being left behind in a world where Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are imperative skills.
Written By: Jay Chisley
Edited By: Alyson Kate-Lanning
Information Provided By: Southern Law Poverty Center & The Center for Education Reform