Just 19 months after Louisiana was listed as having the ninth-best charter school laws in the nation, state education leaders say key changes are needed to improve oversight.
The recommendations stem in part from controversy surrounding two charter schools, including Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School.
The new rules would:
• Reorganize the state office that oversees charter schools, whose $99,500 per year director was fired last month.
e_SBlt Launch annual, on-site inspections of charter schools authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
e_SBlt Offer training for all charter school leaders and state officials on mandatory reporting requirements dealing with suspected child neglect or abuse, unethical conduct and illegal activity.
e_SBlt Set up new “teams” of state officials to oversee charter schools in the Recovery School District, which include seven in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“What we are seeking to do is make use of staff who are on the ground and in the schools every day,” RSD Superintendent John White said.
White’s employees would take a new, lead role in monitoring the schools.
The list of RSD schools that became charters includes Capitol High, Crestworth Middle, Dalton Elementary, Glen Oaks Middle, Kenilworth Science and Technology, Lanier Elementary and Prescott Middle.
Charter schools are public schools run by independent boards, and are supposed to offer innovative education methods.
The state has 88 such schools, which are used by about 35,000 students, about 5 percent of the state’s public school enrollment.
Backers say they offer alternatives for students otherwise stuck in traditional public schools that have failed for years.
Critics question whether the promised improvements are taking place.
The new rules would apply to charter schools approved by BESE, including formerly traditional public schools converted to charter operations in a bid to improve student performance.
In January 2010, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said Louisiana had the ninth-best charter school laws in the nation out of 39 states that allow the schools.
But last week BESE revoked the charter for Abramson Science and Technology School amid allegations of sexual abuse and other problems.
In addition, the department is investigating Kenilworth, primarily because it is overseen by the Pelican Educational Foundation, which held the charter for Abramson.
State Department of Education officials said the changes can be done through new rules or BESE policies and would not require any new laws.
White and Erin Bendily, an assistant deputy superintendent for the state Department of Education, noted the state’s national rating in an Aug. 2 memo that spelled out their recommendations aimed at toughening regulations.
But the pair said that, because of the Abramson and Kenilworth probes, and an analysis launched earlier, charter school oversight improvements are needed.
They also told Ollie Tyler, acting state superintendent of education, that national experts should review charter schools.
On July 22 a legislative oversight committee ordered state auditors to review the finances and performances of the state’s charter schools.
A report is expected this month.