Recent reports reveal the charter school landscape in Louisiana resembles the lawless environment of the Wild West, where anything goes and crimes often go unpunished. The latest renegade is New Orleans’ Sci Tech Academy. To fill a hole in their budget, administrators of Sci Tech (managed by ReNew Schools) falsely identified students as disabled to bring in extra tax dollars for specialized services, denied actual students with disabilities access to the services they needed and violated testing standards designed to ensure the integrity of testing results. The Louisiana Department of Education — our trusty sheriff — didn’t even catch them red-handed. The department claims it would have during internal audits.
But the state department’s regular audits didn’t nab the bandits at Lagniappe Academy in New Orleans. For years, Lagniappe administrators failed to provide services to special-needs children and falsified documents. The department was either unaware of the fraud or turned a blind eye to it until whistle-blowing parents and teachers complained so vociferously for so long LDOE was forced to do a more exhaustive audit. The results confirmed the reports of wrongdoing
Neither whistle-blowers nor the state department reported the crimes at Sci Tech. ReNew turned itself in. And why not? The bandits have nothing to fear. No one was fired, fined or charged with a crime. The CEO of ReNew and the two top administrators at the school were allowed to resign, and the school is under a “corrective action plan.”
Our tax dollars intended to provide special education services were stolen, and Patrick Dobard, the superintendent of the Recovery School District, says there is no hope to recoup them. According to Dobard, the RSD does not have the authority to recover the stolen funds. Our sheriff is powerless.
This is the model New Schools for Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation are determined to bring to Baton Rouge. They initially claimed charters would improve education for the students in the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone. When that failed, they recruited BASIS for south Baton Rouge and, at a public meeting, Basis’ CEO Peter Bezanson declared its schools will flout Louisiana laws regarding the students they serve.
The law specifically states “the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration” at charter schools. And yet, Bezanson stated, BASIS is “unlike some of our peers, who exist to serve a particular student demographic.” BASIS schools serve over 10,000 students across the country, but the percentage of free and reduced-lunch children, students with disabilities and English-as-a-second-language learners is under 5 percent. So much for the best interests of at-risk students. So much for the law. In this Wild West, the charter operators freely declare, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”
One Community, One School District