The Louisiana School Boards Association does not endorse candidates for office, but we’re pretty sure individual members of the group have a favorite in the governor’s race. That’s because Democrat John Bel Edwards has been telling them what they want to hear about state takeover of long-failing schools.
Edwards, who squares off with David Vitter in the Nov. 21 runoff for governor, stops just short of calling for a moratorium on the state taking control of long-failing schools. That “should likely not occur” until the state’s 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.
We do not wonder that Edwards, often allied with the LSBA and teacher unions during his two terms in the Legislature, would be reluctant to back the RSD. But we don’t think a candidate for governor can ignore the realities of a long-term bipartisan policy. State takeover is no plot against traditional systems but the result of persistent and objectively determined poor performance in a school.
The RSD itself was a bipartisan effort and was launched just before Hurricane Katrina by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, an Edwards supporter. If there are legitimate reasons to criticize RSD’s mistakes, and there have been some, the right answer to the LSBA’s questionnaire is that provided by Vitter: “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.
The RSD today oversees 54 schools in New Orleans, nine in Baton Rouge and one in Shreveport. Its New Orleans schools are charters, and some of them have very poor scores — but drastically better scores than were achieved before Hurricane Katrina by a miserably performing and notoriously corrupt Orleans Parish system.
Charter operators, too, are subject to the equivalent of state takeover: Charters can and have been revoked if performance is poor. That means poor as in very poor, and it’s happened in Baton Rouge and New Orleans to charter operators, just as state takeover has occurred in traditional systems.
We agree with Edwards’s comment to the LSBA that charters’ original purpose was “to fit a special need of a district that is going unmet.” And we also can see that quite often there is an us-versus-them battle between charters and traditional systems that is more about turf and money — charters get per-student tax money allocated to local schools, more or less.
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 said the state “should not deny the establishment or expansion of charter schools.”
We think that Vitter gets the best of this question as well.
If parental support and a legitimately qualified charter operator are calling for a charter school, as they have in many Louisiana parishes, then why should a local board stand in the way? Political turf should not extend to a veto over the will of parents seeking a quality school in a community. School boards, including the Lafayette board recently, have tried to block any competition from charters.
Edwards, of Amite, is perhaps more informed than Vitter, of Metairie, about the failures of some charters in East Baton Rouge, a warning about the education challenges facing charters and traditional schools. But candidates aren’t allowed to have their own sets of facts, and one fact is that students in New Orleans are vastly better off than they were under the pre-storm OPSB. Charters are a critical component of that success, and success it is, Mr. Edwards.