Rapides, Louisiana School Choice Fix Gets Kids Out of Failing Schools

Rapides Parish School Board in Louisiana has approved a change to its school choice program that will provide more options for families with students in underperforming public schools. Previously, students enrolled in failing schools could instead attend one of three other schools in the parish, specified by the board. Starting this year, however, parents can instead send their kids to any better-rated school as long as it has available seats.

Last year the parish switched from a 200-point school rating scale to 150-point scale. The grades for all schools have not yet been made public, but when he submitted the proposal to change school choice program, Federal Programs Director Bill Higgins provided scores for failing schools to board members. A school is considered failing when it scores less than 50 points on the new scale.

The district went from 10 failing schools to six this year. They are:
• Alexandria Middle Magnet School (46.6)
• Hadnot-Hayes Elementary (46.3)
• D.F. Huddle Elementary (47.3)
• Arthur F. Smith Middle (46.3)
• W.O. Hall Elementary (47.8)
• Rapides Training Academy (22.4)

The academy serves severe/profound special education students, Higgins said, which is why he considers it to be in a different category and does not include it in his list of failing schools. Each school was a part of choice last year except AMMS.

Higgins said that several schools improved their scores sufficiently last year to get out of the choice program. Of the schools still in the choice program, a number improved their scores over last year – although not enough.

Higgins said that the program is being tweaked to comply with the new state law, especially since so many of the best and most desirable schools in the parish are already at capacity. The problem is especially acute in middle schools.

With two Alexandria middle schools in choice and three at capacity, students likely will need to be bused to north Rapides Parish to attend an available middle school.

Higgins expects about 1,930 students to be eligible, but said not every parent takes the option. "Last year, we had 10 schools in choice but less than 200 parents took advantage of it," Higgins said.

He said some might choose closer schools with lower School Performance Scores or to remain at a failing school rather than bus a young student across the river. He said it comes down to parents' choice and that the impact the school choice plan will have on the district depends on how many parents opt in.

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