Although many members supported the idea in concept, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday was unwilling to fast-track hiring a Dallas-based online education company to help kids who have dropped out or who are in danger of dropping out get a diploma.
“It sounds really great, but there are things that need to be worked out, that have to be fine-tuned,” said board member Jill Dyason.
The rush was to start signing up dropouts to return to school by Oct. 1, the first of two annual official enrollment counts that Louisiana public schools conduct. Every dropout who returns to school represents thousands of dollars in additional state per-pupil funding.
The school system looked at a handful of companies but settled on Grade Results, a for-profit company based in suburban Dallas, as the company best suited to provide the dropout recovery program.
Grade Results has been in business for a decade, and its most prominent clients are the Birmingham and Mobile school districts in Alabama.
School districts across Louisiana are considering offering dropout recovery programs pursuant to Act 530, approved by the Legislature in June. It allows schools to add to the rolls dropouts they entice back, if they offer a program that meets the law’s requirements.
Domoine Rutledge, the board’s general counsel, suggested the board approve the signing of a contract, provided there was a cap on costs, and parameters that addressed board concerns, “otherwise we will miss the Oct. 1 window.”
Board member Mary Lynch pressed school officials to show more of the academic results Grade Results has achieved, as well as how the program would ensure test security.
“We don’t have any idea of what kind of hornet’s nest we’re getting into,” Lynch said.
Dyason also was concerned about how the school system would ensure that students are really the ones taking tests. She noted that the school system has spent months undergoing a series of audits because of questions raised about its grading and record-keeping.
Board member Barbara Freiberg said she needs more information on why Grade Results is the best vendor to handle this work.
“I know that there are hundreds of companies that are doing this same work,” she said. “I just want to see why this one was selected.”
Resigned to delay, Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he will return to the board when it meets next, on Oct. 2 ,with more information justifying hiring Grade Results.
“This is something we need to do,” Taylor said. “It’s long overdue.”
The proposal presented Thursday had two parts. One called for recruiting to the online program as many as 50 dropouts. The second part called for persuading at least 100 students, at least 17 years of age and who are in danger of dropping out, to transfer into the program.
The cost to hire Grade Results is estimated at $360,000 a year, or $2,400 per student, on average. Taylor said the program would pay for itself via added state revenue from recruiting dropouts and redirecting already budgeted money for the older students that would transfer into the program.
Taylor said there are as many as 250 older students the system has identified who are way behind in school and are running out of time to earn enough high school credits to graduate.
Many of these students are so behind that they are likely to do poorly on standardized tests and would do better in another setting, he said.
“We have some kids who will age out if we don’t give them other alternatives,” he said.