Allowing the children of company officials half the seats of charter schools they partner with will be a tool that lures businesses to the state, officials said.
The partnership is spelled out in House Bill 421, which won final approval in the Legislature last month.
The measure is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who made it part of his legislative package.
Backers envision the creation of new charter schools, which are supposed to offer innovative teaching methods, spawned by firms with an interest in making sure their children have access to top-flight classrooms.
The firm could also tailor the mission of the school to dovetail with the mission of the company.
Students could then have access to professionals who could help with on-job options, shadowing and internships.
A firm or firms could partner with charter schools by:
- Donating land for the school.
- Donating the school building or the space it occupies.
- Paying for major renovations to an existing school, including technology improvements.
In exchange, up to half of any such school could consist of the children of the company’s employees.
The other half would come from the neighboring community.
The firm could also have minority representation on the board that runs the school.
Whether good public schools are available is a common issue when firms consider relocating, said Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
Knapp said he thinks the soon-to-be law will spark interest from employers who have the interest and capacity to invest in school improvements.
“I think we will see that around the state, not just in the Baton Rouge area,” he said.
“The benefit for them (company officials) is they want to have a place where their talent can put their kids in public education,” Knapp said.
Teacher unions criticized the bill when it went through the Legislature.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the Louisiana measure is modeled after a Florida law that has only produced four “company schools” in 13 years.
“We need to be very careful with company schools,” Monaghan told a House committee earlier this year.
Stephen Moret, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, said the bill will help business leaders gain confidence that they have good school options.
Moret said a significant number of firms in Louisiana provide employees with extra pay for private schools.
He said the new option will also help the state’s image for education reform.
Louisiana has an estimated 668,000 students attending about 1,300 public schools.
About 33,000 students attend about 90 charter schools statewide, which are touted as an innovative alternative to traditional public schools.
Critics contend the performance of charter schools is uneven.
Jim Garvey, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the bill could help places like Jefferson Parish, which he represents on the state panel.
Garvey said he frequently hears that outside firms are reluctant to move to Jefferson Parish because of concerns about low-performing schools.
He said that triggers fears that employers will have to pay more so that employees can pay for private schools.
Garvey said the bill is aimed at easing concerns by business leaders “if they are in charge of running that school and they can reserve up to half of the seats for their employees.”
Brigitte Nieland, a vice president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, made a similar point.
“Say you have a manufacturer that wants to come up but they are concerned about the schools in the area,” Nieland said.
“This allows them to come in and be assured that their employees’ children will have a chance of getting into a school they have some input in,” she said.
State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the bill, said one of the keys is how well the state promotes the measure.
“Stephen Moret needs to take it and run with it,” Carter said.
“I look at it more as an economic development tool, rather than just another charter tool,” he said.