This year will mark the launch of one of the most extensive, comprehensive charter school programs in the country. Starting this fall, every student in Louisiana whose neighborhood school is considered underperforming will be eligible to transfer to another school with the state picking up the tab via vouchers. In anticipation of families taking advantage of this option, a record number of charter school proposals were submitted to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this spring.
According to State Superintendent of Education John White, the number of proposals for new schools alone – 29 – exceeded the number received over the same period last year by 500%. In total, BESE received 49 charter school applications from all over the state. During BESE’s August meeting, board members agreed to streamline the charter approval process in order to make sure that proposals were reviewed and vetted in a reasonable amount of time.
“We’re excited to see so many educators, community and business leaders from all corners of the state answer the call to provide a high quality education to Louisiana students,” said White. “The legislation gave us the ability to provide more public school choices to students in chronically failing schools across the state. As a result, we received a record number of applications.”
Last year 98 charter schools around the state served as a home for over 44,000 Louisiana students, and judging by the results from the latest set of standardized tests, the schools have proved to be a refuge for kids looking to escape their sub-par local schools. From 2010 to 2011, charter school students showed a 6% improvement in academic performance compared to only 2% in traditional public schools.
The state annually accepts applications from various organizations to operate charter schools, but for the first time this year, applicants could apply directly to BESE to open new charter schools. The landmark Act 2 legislation now allows potential charter operators to apply to BESE if their school district received a letter grade of “D” or “F.” As a result, BESE received 26 applications this year for new charter schools compared to five applications last year. Among the applicants are Louisiana charter groups seeking to expand to other areas of the state including ReNew Schools, Crescent City Schools, Arise Academy, New Orleans College Preparatory Academies, and Spirit of Excellence.
This year the state went out of its way to solicit as many charter school proposals as possible, naming this effort the 2012 Call for Quality Schools. Specifically, officials were interested in attracting operators who planned to open schools in areas deemed to be high-priority or high-need — areas that are typically racially mixed and that are home to families with lower-than-average income. Students from those areas usually have no choice but to attend some of the lowest-performing public schools in the state.