Even if you take a dim view of charter schools, as John Bel Edwards did in his time in the Legislature, we suggest that new restrictions on the publicly funded but independent campuses ought to be very carefully assessed by the Legislature.
Because, despite carping by then-state Rep. Edwards, the schools by and large have worked for Louisiana students, particularly in New Orleans.
There, the renaissance of public education after Hurricane Katrina has been a success story, even if some charter schools have failed to deliver, and have had their charters revoked as a consequence.
That’s one of the real advantages of charter schools, in our view. If students aren’t showing measurable improvement, the school administration has to explain why or go out of business. Mediocrity in traditional public schools can all too often become a way of life, particularly in poor neighborhoods where parents don’t have the advantages of the better-off.
Given that many Louisiana schools aren’t doing well — whether charters or those in traditional systems — we hope lawmakers don’t eagerly take to bills that close off options for families seeking charter schools as an option to improve public education.
Now that Edwards is governor, some bills he unsuccessfully pushed in the House are getting a new hearing. In part, that’s because of the influence of the Governor’s Office, and the knowledge that anti-charter bills would eventually be signed if passed by lawmakers; former Gov. Bobby Jindal would very likely have vetoed them.
Fortunately, though, we think the merits of charter schools outweigh their flaws, as we hope legislators will recognize.
A nonprofit board of community volunteers can adapt the curriculum and the atmosphere of a charter school far faster than the typical school run by a publicly elected school board.
Innovations are selling points for charters just as they are for magnet schools in traditional systems, but the benefits of longer school days and new approaches in the classroom are available to a broader base of children through the charter option.
The governor often has used the phrase “local control” to rationalize restrictions on new charters. Local school boards, in other words, ought to be able to restrict competition, all too often arising from complacency toward poor academic results in schools.
Given that charters are typically approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, a body led by elected members, the notion that local school boards are somehow more democratic tends to fall apart. In addition, we question whether elected officials at any level are inherently superior in running a school; a nonprofit board drawn from the community arguably is more focused on success in its school than a political figure on a parish board.
We believe that accountability is fundamental, and Louisiana has a strong system of high-stakes testing and has established new and higher academic standards for schools. That’s the fundamental point. But if a parish’s system is not performing, what are parents going to do if they cannot afford private school tuition? Charters provide a real option, even if they are threatening to established systems.
It is accountable competition that will strengthen schools.