Jindal’s Louisiana Charter Expansion Plans Under Question

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's charter expansion proposals have been met by a mixed reception from charter experts across the country.

Jindal's plan to authorize more types of groups that can approve new charter schools in the state will include nonprofits, community groups, and universities. The plan would likely cause charters to spring up rapidly across the state, not just in the urban areas where they are now concentrated, writes Sarah Carr at the Times-Picayune.

Under current state law, only local school boards and the state board of education have the right to approve charters. And when they do, they take advice from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers before they make the decision.

Jeanne Allen, president of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform, said that while she supports expanding the authorization power beyond local school boards and state education boards, she isn't keen on the idea of seeing a swell of more nonprofits as authorizers.

"The issue isn't that we need dozens more authorizers.

"We need a few strong and competitive organizations who take the job seriously and do the work the state doesn't have the expertise or bandwidth to do."

However, proponents of Jindal's plan say that the commonly held belief that the approval process is biased against grass-roots, "mom-and-pop" charter applicants could be addressed.

"But several researchers say states with multiple authorizers — including private nonprofits — have some of the weakest charter-school performance in the country," writes Carr.

There are currently 2 million students in charter schools across the country, with New Orleans having the highest number of students enrolled in charters with about 80 percent of public school students attending them.

While Jindal and his administration have yet to give details about his proposal, he has been vocal in calling for state law to "allow community organizations, nonprofits, universities and other local entities to apply directly to the state to become charter authorizers."

Superintendent John White said the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will have a "rigorous process" to ensure only the best authorizers get approved.

White said:

"There will be a quick trigger at the state level, where if you are not producing outcomes for our kids we are not going to let you authorize more schools.

"That way we can ensure we don't have what happened in Ohio."

Many local school boards are often hesitant to approve charter schools for various reasons – financial, political or philosophical. But White believes that having charter-friendly nonprofits, universities and community groups function as authorizers can create a chartering process "that is closer to the community."

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