Without a single vote in opposition, the Louisiana Senate approved a bill that would move New Orleans public schools from state control back to the Orleans Parish School Board.
Senate Bill 432 would establish a framework that would return all the schools by 2018 — 2019 at the latest.
The state has run 52 New Orleans public schools for the past decade.
Created in 2003, the state’s Recovery School District was set up to seize failing schools and turn them around. It started with a handful of schools but accelerated after Hurricane Katrina exposed how poorly New Orleans public schools had been performing.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, sponsor of the measure, said SB432 would require the superintendents at the RSD and OPSB to work together. A lot of the processes and functions, which have been done by the state, would have to be picked up and learned by local officials.
The schools will transfer to OPSB governance by 2018. But, if something crops up during the transition, like problems with financing, the move could be postponed to work out the operational issue. In that case, the complete transfer would be accomplished by July 1, 2019, she said.
Republican Sen. Conrad Appel, of Metairie, said the legislation is not perfect but it answers a lot of the concerns of the superintendents, charter school managers, parents, educators and lawmakers who have been negotiating for months.
“At some point in time, the state of Louisiana has to withdraw from Orleans Parish,” Appel said, adding that it allows parents in New Orleans a local connection to their schools.
After only a few minutes of discussion, the Senate voted 36-0 in favor of SB432. It now goes to the Louisiana House for consideration. The House of Representatives would need to approve and the governor would need to sign for the transition to begin.
In a prepared statement, Eva Kemp, state director of Democrats for Education Reform Louisiana, said although challenges remain, “this is an opportunity to create a strong, unified and autonomous school system comprised of high-quality schools for each and every student in the city, regardless of their background or zip code.”
“Completing the transformation and sustaining the progress will require a shift toward local responsibility,” the RSD said in a news release. “Local taxpayers will need to invest in schools. Local parents will need to see the public schools as desirable options for their children. Local civic leaders will need to embrace a new approach to school governance. Absent these steps, the transformation will not be complete.”
The legislation would require all schools to participate in a common enrollment. OPSB would establish enrollment targets for schools based on performance and demographic needs. The schools would be placed in geographic zones but require that geographic priority would never be applied to more than half the seats available.
Most of the schools being transferred are charter schools, which are public schools run by nongovernmental boards. Charters are supposed to offer innovative classrooms without the red tape common in traditional public schools. For charters, the superintendent would make authorizing decisions that could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of OPSB. The charters also would provide for independent third-party test monitoring.
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