Having seen the success of charter schools in Louisiana, 19 groups are currently seeking permission to allow them to open as many as 23 new charter schools in the state, in the hopes of enrolling students in the 2010-11 school year.
In order to be approved, the groups interviewed with the state Department of Education at the end of September; the department was scheduled to make its decisions on which groups to approve by early October.
Louisiana has a state law requiring charter schools be given approximately the same amount of per-pupil funding other public schools receive (around $9,700 per year), which makes charter schools a more viable alternative for those who cannot afford private schools.
Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, says the demand for charter schools is high enough in Louisiana to support all the new proposals. His organization oversaw the interviews and application process this autumn.
“We have seen a tremendous improvement in the quality of education available to New Orleans children,” he explained. “Where there used to be hopelessness, there is a new belief in public education. There is still a long way to go, but the people of New Orleans are now engaged and optimistic about the future. In recent polls, strong majorities of New Orleans residents indicated that they do not want to return to the old school system.”
That demand is apparent elsewhere in the state as well.
“Now, through the leadership of State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, new charter schools are also opening elsewhere in Louisiana,” Richmond said. “Just as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has suggested, Superintendent Pastorek is using a charter school strategy to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the state.
“Louisiana is at the forefront of a national trend: Charter schools are no longer at the margins of public education reform; they are front and center,” he added. “Any city or state that wants to implement a complete set of strategies to improve education outcomes needs to embrace charter schools as part of the solution.”
Kevin Kane, president of the Pelican Institute, a Louisiana-based think tank, agrees.
“As a member of the board of the Lafayette Academy, one of the charter schools that opened after Hurricane Katrina, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of charter schools,” Kane said. “Lafayette is one of the great success stories of the charter movement. We serve some of the poorest children in the city, but our test scores have improved dramatically since Katrina. Not all of the charters have been this successful, but it is clear this model is superior to the traditional public school.”
Approving good new charter schools is good public policy, Kane says. “These schools will benefit Louisiana because they will continue the movement away from a centralized bureaucracy and towards greater independence, innovation, and choice.”
Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.