Republican David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards offered sharply differing views on the state takeover of troubled public schools, according to comments to the Louisiana School Boards Association released Wednesday.
Edwards, who squares off with Vitter in the Nov. 21 runoff for governor, stopped just short of calling for a moratorium on the state taking control of long-failing schools.
Replacing locally run schools with state-run operations “should likely not occur” until the Recovery School District shows it is succeeding at its original aim to improve operations, Edwards said in response to questions from the LSBA.
“So no, very clearly, it has not served its original purpose,” the Democrat said of the RSD.
But Vitter included the RSD among post-Hurricane Katrina school reforms that have paid dividends, including more school choice, higher graduation rates and improved test scores.
“As long as we have failing schools and stagnant performance, we should keep all options on the table to provide improved and excellent education for students,” he said.
Scott Richard, executive director of the LSBA, said he was struck by the contrast between Vitter and Edwards on education topics.
“I mean the divergence of philosophy is very clear,” Richard said.
Edwards is a state representative from Amite. Vitter is Louisiana’s senior U.S. senator and is from Metairie.
The RSD was set up to repair public schools rated as academic failures by the state Department of Education, and oversight lasts for at least five years.
The RSD oversees 54 schools in New Orleans, nine in Baton Rouge and one in Shreveport.
Backers contend the overhaul has sparked huge gains in test scores and other areas.
Critics contend the improvements are overblown, that student performance remains dismal and the schools should be returned to local control.
RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said earlier this year that, of 36 schools eligible to return to the Orleans Parish School Board, only one chose to do so.
On another topic, Edwards criticized charter schools and Vitter praised them.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards.
About 70,000 students attend the roughly 135 such schools in 20 parishes.
The New Orleans public school system is dominated by charter schools.
Many charter schools serve a valuable purpose, Edwards said.
“Still many more are caught in scandal and malfeasance and aren’t serving their intended purpose — to fit a special need of a district that is going unmet,” he said.
Vitter took a different view.
“Louisiana has made a name for itself in expanding school choice over the last decade, through initiatives like charter schools, and I continue to be supportive of these reforms,” he said.
Edwards said decisions by local school boards on charter applications should not be overridden by the state’s top school board, which is allowed now.
Vitter indicated he is content with the current rules, favors maximum options for families and the state “should not deny the establishment or expansion of charter schools.”
The LSBA, which has 643 members, does not endorse gubernatorial candidates, Richard said.
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