A bid by Gov. John Bel Edwards and others to curb charter schools fizzled Wednesday.
Three such bills were rejected by the Louisiana House Education Committee, including a hotly debated measure that would put a one-year moratorium on state-approved charter schools.
Three others were shelved voluntarily by the sponsors, largely because of legislative resistance.
The nearly five-hour meeting in a crowded committee room featured spirited arguments, with backers of traditional public schools generally in favor of the changes and self-styled reformers opposed.
The outcome was significant because it marked the first such push since Edwards, a Democrat who has criticized charter schools, replaced former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, an ally of the charter school movement.
Another test is set for Thursday, when the Senate Education Committee debates a bid by the governor to ban the state from approving charter schools in A- and B-rated districts after local boards reject them.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards. About 74,000 students attend the state’s 139 charter schools, mostly in New Orleans.
One of the proposals — House Bill 167 — would ban the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from approving charter schools if state aid for schools falls, which is expected for the 2016-17 school year.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the plan, said financially pressed school districts stand to suffer even more setbacks if new charter schools siphon dollars from their coffers. “When a charter is put in place, money is reduced for those school districts,” Smith told the panel.
Jim Garvey, BESE president, said, “Please don’t leave the children stuck in schools just because we are having budget issues.”
Smith’s bill failed 5-9.
The committee also rejected an Edwards-backed measure — House Bill 98 — that would remove the option for state-approved local groups to authorize charter schools.
Smith, who also sponsored that plan, said BESE and local school boards should not cede their charter rights to local organizations.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said such groups are often linked to out-of-state organizations and overlook the needs of children and local communities. “They would report to no one, not even BESE,” Meaux said.
Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said no such groups have been approved to authorize charter schools, in part because of rigorous checks.
“Charter schools are public schools of choice,” Roemer said. “Local charter authorizers are merely another path to having that choice.”
Smith’s bill failed 6-9.
Smith voluntarily shelved another controversial measure — House Bill 168 — that would require charter school teachers to meet the same qualifications as those in traditional public schools.
Her fourth measure — House Bill 502 — was put off for two weeks because of a technical question.
That legislation would require BESE to conduct local district impact studies before charter schools are approved.
In another area, Rep. Joseph Bouie, D-New Orleans, shelved his own bill amid signs that it too would be rejected by the committee.
The Edwards-backed measure, House Bill 879, would ban future charter schools from being run by for-profit operators.
Bouie called charter schools a “state-sanctioned experiment.”
He distributed information that shows of 17 such schools today, 13 are rated D or F.
“We are actually harming them,” Bouie told the committee.
Critics noted that school districts routinely contract with for-profit firms for exams, textbooks and other areas.
A sixth measure — House Bill 1004 — failed on a vote of 4-10.
It would require that local school districts retain the assets when charter schools close.
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