Soon after Chris Meyer came on board in spring 2012 as the first CEO of the fledgling nonprofit New Schools for Baton Rouge, he compiled a list of more than 150 charter management organizations from around the country in hopes of finding some that would be worth recruiting to Baton Rouge.
As of May 1, seven of those organizations agreed to seek authority to start charter schools in Baton Rouge. They were among 35 applicants statewide, 22 of which want to start new schools in Baton Rouge.
Meyer, who previously worked as deputy superintendent for the state-run Recovery District in New Orleans, said he expects more charter organizations will follow.
“We haven’t stopped,” he said. “There are people not on this list who will tell us they will apply next year.”
The state Department of Education released a list Thursday of the 35 applicants.
The seven organizations that New Schools for Baton Rouge recruited are: Celerity Educational Group, based in Los Angeles; Collegiate Academies, based in New Orleans; Democracy Prep Public Schools, based in New York City; Family Urban Schools of Excellence or FUSE, based in Hartford, Conn.; Green Dot Public Charter Schools, based in Los Angeles; Knowledge is Power Program or KIPP, based in San Francisco; and YES Prep Public Schools, based in Houston.
Two of those organizations, Collegiate Academies and KIPP, already run schools in New Orleans, but the rest are new to Louisiana. They are a mix of well-known brands like KIPP and YES, which recently won national recognition when it was selected for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, as well as some that are not well-known beyond the communities they serve.
The applicants are seeking to start schools in 2014, 2015 or 2016, and they will be evaluated over the summer by an external evaluator, SchoolWorks, based in Beverly, Mass. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will approve new charters starting in August, which is earlier than the board has made the decision in past years.
The seven applicants New Schools helped to recruit have applied to start 37 charter schools in Louisiana. KIPP and YES won’t start any schools until 2015 at the earliest. It’s not clear how many of those 37 proposed schools are slated for Baton Rouge.
The state did not release the full applications, rather it released a short summary of each applicant. The Advocate submitted a public records request on Thursday seeking to examine the applications and is still awaiting a response.
In settling on these seven applicants, Meyer said he looked closely at their academic track records and a range of analyses on how these organizations operate. Some of the 15 who applied to start schools in Baton Rouge did not pass muster in Meyer’s opinion.
“There’s a few on that list I know that we’ve had conversations with before, and the results I’ve seen, it just wasn’t there,” he said.
New Schools for Baton Rouge was formed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. It is modeled on a similar group in New Orleans called New Schools for New Orleans.
Part of the attraction is that New Schools for Baton Rouge is seeking to raise $30 million as a support fund for the charter school applicants it finds most promising.
Meyer said the money is less of an attraction than the favorable environment Louisiana has created for charter schools, which are public schools run privately, and the desire of these organizations to help educate low-income children who are at risk of not succeeding in life.
“I don’t think people are motivated by the money, but there is a startup cost that’s real,” he acknowledged.
Those startup costs are typically $2,000 to $3,000 per student on top of the $9,000 or $10,000 per student in public funding that public schools receive, he said.
Just because they applied doesn’t mean these charter management groups will be able to tap into the New Schools support fund.
“We told a lot of people, this is just the starting line,” Meyer said.
New Schools has hired a team of LSU researchers, which will be led by George Noell, to perform an analysis on top of the one SchoolWorks is conducting. The LSU team will evaluate all the new charter applicants in Baton Rouge, including the ones New Schools recruited. Noell, a psychology professor, is best known for leading the effort to create Louisiana’s value-added test score measurement system.
The results of the LSU team evaluations, which will be released publicly by Aug. 1, as well as New Schools examination of the applicants’ implementation plans will determine which charter management groups receive the financial support of New Schools, Meyer said. He said those determinations will be made in October.
He said LSU will be able to provide a more in-depth look at the applicants than New Schools conducted, and the evaluations will come from seasoned educational analysts.
“The LSU review is a good check on the process,” he said.