Charter School Applications Debated|Southern Education Desk
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Potential changes to Louisiana’s charter school application process have administrators anticipating the legislature’s next move.
Governor Bobby Jindal announced in January his intention to present legislation which would streamline the procedure of applying for a charter.
With the legislature poised to reconvene, the debate over the size and scope of the charter-school initiative is heating up.
|Neville High School.|
Neville High School is a public school, and a successful one by state grading system standards.
It garnered a ‘B’ in the fall Education Department report card. But there is a movement to turn Neville into a charter school.
Ronnie Shelby graduated from Neville in 1969 - he is part of a non-profit school alumni group that is assembling an application for a charter. He says the effort is aimed at continuing the school’s high performance.
“I’m not saying that the change to a charter school control would immediately improve anything. It would just guarantee the continuance of what they presently have.”
For Shelby, that means maintaining high academic and athletic standards. The former Neville student hopes Governor Bobby Jindal’s January announcement of introducing legislation which would “fast track” certain charter operators will improve his group’s chances.
The efficacy of charter schools has been a matter of debate, but here in Louisiana, the debate being argued on broader grounds.
George Cannon, Acting Superintendent of Schools in Union Parish, questions the size and scope of potential changes to the charter application process.
“The charter school movement is a national movement. It’s not a Louisiana movement at all. I think that what the governor is doing differently than, say, almost every other state is that the other states have been experimenting some with the charter movement and you will find relatively few charter schools in each of those states. They’ve not in any way tried to take the place of the traditional public school system. I think what the governor is trying to do in riding that particular movement is to see how quickly he can expand the charter school enrollment in the state.”
Leslie Jacobs is a former member of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE. She explains the rules by which charter schools must play.
“A charter school is not under the direct control of the daily operations by the local school board. A charter school has control over its time people and money. It sets its own budget; it hires its own people. It can set the hours of the day, it can set its own curriculum but kids are subject to the high-stakes testing. They’re in the school accountability, they’re subject to the open meetings law, public records law; they are public schools.”
George Cannon doesn’t take issue with that definition, but in addition to his concerns about the size of the new proposals, he’s also worried about speed of implementation.
“I think the big question becomes whether or not it is feasible within such a short period of time over the next six or eight months to make this happen in such a colossal way, that there is a potential for a breakdown in existing public schools and how they’re funded and the funding source, that if the big experiment doesn’t work in the future, will have so damaged the traditional public school system that it won’t be able to recover either? Now, public school reform is essential - you gotta do it. And I think basically what we’re talking about here is how vast is that change, and how quickly does that change occur?”
Leslie Jacobs does not believe new laws are likely to change the charter school landscape.
“I don’t believe the passage of any legislation is going to open the floodgates of – that there’s this huge backlog of people waiting to apply to open up a charter school if only there was a better process.”
Ronnie Shelby’s group – if it successfully applies for a charter – would be one of more than 90 state-wide. He says obtaining a charter ultimately would provide benefits for students.
“You would be able to offer other programs specifically aligned with the needs of your student body. Whereas sometimes, on a system-wide basis with the school board, maybe it just was not economically feasible or logistically possible to do. So the charter school would just allow us to provide – we feel like – more opportunities.”
Whether Shelby’s group represents an isolated example, or whether a greater number of applications won’t be known until after the legislature reconvenes later in March.
Air Date: Fri, 03/02/2012