All charter schools in Louisiana could soon face the same transportation service requirement as their traditional counterparts.
Louisiana Department of Education staff recommended this week that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education require all future authorized charter schools to provide free transportation to students who live more than a mile from the school and within the parish where the school is located. Staff also recommended that existing charter schools be allowed a three-year window to phase in free transportation services.
The recommendations are part of a report submitted during BESE committee meetings this week in a study of charter school transportation issues. No action was taken on the recommendations, which will head to the House and Senate education committees.
Of the state’s 134 charter schools, 88.5 percent provide transportation to students, the report says. The state does not require charter schools to provide transportation unless it’s a requirement made by the school’s authorizer. BESE only requires the state’s 64 Type 5 charters — schools taken over by the Louisiana Department of Education as part of the Recovery School District — to provide free transportation to students.
Currently, at least 20 of 31 Type 2 charter schools — schools authorized by BESE — provide free transportation, according to the report. There are two more Type 2 charter schools in the state, but they are virtual schools.
In Lafayette Parish, there will be four Type 2 charter schools come August. National Heritage Academies’ Willow Charter Academy in north Lafayette opened in August, and NHA will open Broussard Charter Academy in south Lafayette this coming August.
A separate charter management company, Charter Schools USA, opened two schools in August: Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy in north Lafayette and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville, in south Lafayette Parish.
The Lafayette Charter Foundation is the school board for both CSUSA schools. The board has been working with CSUSA on the possibility of providing transportation to its students at Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy, the foundation’s president, Mary Riggs-Cook, said in an email. The school started the year in August with 547 students but now enrolls 515. Transportation issues were cited for the withdrawal of at least 10 of the students.
Riggs-Cook said the management company assesses the transportation needs of its individual schools, and three CSUSA schools in the Lake Charles area provide transportation to students based on need.
“Transportation is a funding decision that could take money out of the classroom, thus the need for transportation is best made by communities and individual charter schools through the autonomy they are typically given to make these types of decisions,” Riggs-Cook said. “We, along with everyone else, must wait and see what the final policy will look like before we can determine future actions.”
Willow Charter Academy in north Lafayette started the school year with about 480 students, but enrollment is now down to 455. Principal Melissa Jones Clarke said the parents of the majority of the students who withdrew cited transportation as a factor.
NHA will closely monitor the state’s decision related to any transportation requirements and will comply with any needed changes, Jennifer Hoff, NHA spokeswoman, said in an email. Currently, the company provides bus transportation to 17 of its partner schools in Indiana, New York, Ohio and Michigan, she said.
“Many NHA-partner schools, like Willow Charter Academy for example, are located on the local bus route to ease the burden of transportation some families may face,” Hoff said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.