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Business-backed charter schools wouldn’t answer to local school boards under proposal

By: - April 14, 2022 12:34 pm
Jefferson Parish School Board

A Louisiana Senate committee approved a bill that would move oversight of charter schools with corporate partners from local school boards to the state school board (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana charter schools with corporate partners would not have to answer to local school boards under a proposal that advanced from a state Senate committee Thursday.

Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, pitched Senate Bill 145 as an effort to help build regional charter schools that would spur economic development. Large employers that team with charter operators would be able to entice employees from different parishes because their children would be given preferred, but not guaranteed, enrollment priority at partner schools.

The bill would remove oversight of such charter schools from local school boards and put them under the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Some lawmakers questioned whether such arrangements benefit the larger public school system as well as the need for the proposal, given that only three charter operators in Louisiana currently run such schools. Talbot highlighted one of them, Discovery Schools, which manages the Dr. John Ochsner Discovery Health Sciences Academy in Jefferson in partnership with Ochsner Health System. Its curriculum steers students in the direction of health care careers with ample opportunity for employment. Similar arrangements in different industry could simultaneously improve the quality of education and address pressing work force needs, he said.

There were concerns on the committee that the relatively short history of charter schools in Louisiana has yet to yield a proven track record of overwhelming positive results. The Ochsner school and others with corporate partners only have one year of performance scores to judge its success because the pandemic led state education officials to suspend such evaluations, Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said.

Talbot explained that corporate-partner charter schools are better able to address capacity limits. He singled out Hynes Charter Schools in New Orleans, which has maxed out its Lakeview campus. Through its partnership with the University of New Orleans, Hynes has opened an additional school and taken over the charter of another operator.

In response to additional questions from skeptics, Talbot said that his bill was needed to circumvent school boards not willing to provide the autonomy corporate charter partnerships need.

He specifically called out the Jefferson Parish School Board for “doubling down” on its decision to suspend two elementary students who had BB guns with them during online classes. Neither student attended a charter school. Talbot cited the incident to express his exasperation with the school board, which ultimately settled two lawsuits from the suspended students’ families.

In the end, the Senate Education Committee advanced Talbot’s bill without objection.

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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