Louisiana Lifts Limit on Charter Schools

Published October 1, 2009

Just in time to be considered for federal Race to the Top funds, Louisiana legislators removed the state’s cap on charter schools.

State Rep. Walt Leger III (D-New Orleans) introduced the bill and added an amendment to remove the charter cap, previously set at 70 schools statewide.

“We applaud the legislature for lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in Louisiana,” said Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. “State-imposed caps do not ensure a higher quality of education but do limit access to high-quality public school choices for students who are currently being served by academically failing schools.”

Encouraging Charter Expansion

President Barack Obama has encouraged all states to lift their charter school caps. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it clear Louisiana is a strong contender to receive a share of the competitive grant, mainly because of an innovative program currently being implemented through the Recovery School District, a special district run like a charter school but under the administration of the state’s Department of Education.

To qualify for Race to the Top funding, states must have high academic standards, effectively use data to increase student learning, implement programs to improve teacher and principal quality, and have a method for turning around struggling schools.

So far only Florida and Louisiana have been considered “highly competitive,” according to a new state-by-state report released by The New Teacher Project. The organization’s president, Timothy Daly, says the study is “a quick and dirty analysis” he hopes states will use as a guide.

Sending a Message

The study found many states, particularly California and New York, would not qualify for the federal grants because their laws do not allow student test results to be used in evaluating teachers.

“We like the way the administration is using Race to the Top to send a message about its priorities,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a national advocacy group based in New York. “We like that it’s gotten states to take a close look at their laws and practices.”

The law passed this summer may further strengthen Louisiana’s chance at securing a share of the $4.35 billion pot, but Louisiana Department of Education officials told The Times Picayune the number of charter schools statewide would not increase arbitrarily.

“This bill does not exempt charter applicants from the state’s authorization process or accountability standards, which are designed to ensure that only high-quality charter school applicants are approved to operate in the state,” State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said in an August press release. “We will continue to recruit and retain only the highest quality charter school providers to Louisiana.”

Evelyn B. Stacey ([email protected]) is a policy fellow in education studies at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.

For more information …

“Interpreting Race to the Top: Summary & Analysis of USDE Draft Guidelines,” The New Teacher Project, August 2009: http://www.tntp.org/publications/other_publications.html#R2T