The president of Louisiana’s top school board Wednesday disputed Gov. John Bel Edwards’ call for curbing the board’s authority over charter schools and narrowing eligibility for vouchers.
“I would prefer to leave it as it is,” said Jim Garvey, a Metairie attorney and president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Garvey made his comments in an interview after state education leaders made presentations to the Louisiana House Education Committee.
Under current rules, BESE can overrule local school board rejections of charter school proposals. Edwards on Monday proposed ending that authority when the local board is located in an A or B school district.
The governor said that would restore more local control over public school issues.
But Garvey said Louisiana’s grading system for both school districts and individual schools is so lenient that BESE should retain its authority over charter school appeals, including A and B districts.
Even in a B district, he said, only about 60 percent of students are performing at grade level.
“On a regular school test, if 60 percent of the students got the answers right they were supposed to get right, that would not be considered a B,” Garvey said, adding, “That shows, just common sense, that we have set the bar for a B at a very, very low level.”
The grading scale stems from policies approved by previous state boards.
Garvey also said the 11-member state board only approves about 30 percent of charter school applicants who request a second look.
“We are not a rubber stamp for those appeals,” he said.
“We are very stringent with that because we want the state to have good charter schools,” Garvey said. “We do not want it to have more charter schools. We want it to have more good charter schools.”
Charter schools are public schools that are supposed to offer innovative classrooms. The state has 144 of the schools, mostly in New Orleans, and they are used by about 69,000 students.
Garvey said how the state assigns letter grades to public schools is a key reason to continue allowing students in schools rated C, D or F to apply for vouchers. Vouchers are state aid for students from low-income families to attend private schools. About 7,100 do so now.
Edwards said earlier this week that the 2012 program was set up to allow families to escape failing public schools and that a C school meets no such definition. He proposed limiting vouchers to students in schools rated D and F, not C, D and F.
Garvey said about 45 percent of students are performing at grade level in a C-rated public school.
“That is the definition of failure, except in Louisiana, where we have lowered the standards so much that the standards are, in a sense, nonsensical,” he said.
In another area, Garvey said annual tests controlled by BESE constitute four days per school year.
Edwards on Monday, as well as other officials, have complained that students are saddled with too many exams.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/