Financially strapped school districts in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and elsewhere are being hurt by rising amounts of dollars being moved from districts to charter schools, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association and others said Thursday.
In the past three years, local education dollars rerouted from traditional public schools to charter schools rose by 39 percent in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district — to $28.3 million — and 73 percent in the Jefferson Parish school system — to $4.5 million, according to state figures.
Local dollars redirected from the Lafayette Parish school system to charter schools rose from nearly $460,000 two years ago to $9.6 million during the past school year.
Scott Richard, who leads the LSBA, said the trend points up the need to ban the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from overriding local decisions on charter schools.
“BESE is overriding local school board decisions in the name of choice, and the local district is left holding the bag,” Richard said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed legislation to impose just such a ban when he was a member of the state House.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards, and their advocates often clash with the LSBA and other traditional public school groups.
The schools are supposed to offer innovative alternatives to traditional classrooms and give families more options when faced with troubled schools.
The state has 144 charter schools, according to the state Department of Education.
That includes 35 known as Type 2, which are authorized by BESE.
Richard said those schools are a big reason dollars are increasingly being diverted from school districts, often against the wishes of local educators.
“How far do you go in the name of choice?” he asked. “Do you break a local school system to offer duplicative choices that already exist?”
Eric Lewis, executive director of Apex Collegiate Academy, saw his charter school approved by BESE in December after earlier being rejected by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
Lewis said families of charter school students are entitled to the aid, and the issue is bigger than how much charter schools get.
“I don’t see that it simply boils down to charter schools or district schools,” he said. “It is about equitable funding for public education, period.”
State aid for public schools has been flat or risen only slightly in recent years amid rising retirement, health care and other expenses for local districts.
Edwards and the Legislature face a $2.7 billion shortfall for the current and next financial years, which means public school aid is unlikely to grow much.
Concerns by Richard and others surfaced during BESE’s two days of meetings earlier this week.
Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said the concerns of Richard and others are valid.
Milton said in an email that several districts face financial challenges brought on, in part, by “losing local tax dollars being rerouted to for-profit charters” that fail to offer programs that outshine what the district offers.
Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the movement of local education dollars to charter schools is having a detrimental impact on programs, infrastructure and pay.
“For us, it means that our children have less diversity in programming, have less resources that go into their classrooms,” Meaux said.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said, “It is an issue that has to be looked into.”
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