The ascension of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a skeptic of new charter schools, is unlikely to have much impact in New Orleans, where the independently run public schools are basically the norm.
Where Edwards’ views are likely to have an impact is in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, where charters are looking to expand their footprints. In Lafayette, in particular, the three charter schools’ expansion is blamed for budget cuts in the traditional school system.
In north Baton Rouge, community leaders across East Baton Rouge Parish are backing an “achievement zone” of charters, including organizations seeking to replicate here some of the most successful schools in the country.
The legislative debate on the direction of public schools — for all of these are publicly funded — thus is going to be of particular interest in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas. We hope that recruitment of top-notch charter operators is not in vain.
In the past few years, teachers unions and traditional school boards often joined with then-Rep. Edwards to push for restrictions on charters, but those rarely made it past the House and Senate education committees. It is not clear how much the legislative landscape has changed, although Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, at the helm of the House panel is likely to make it more difficult for new restrictions to advance.
Education reform debates became sulfurous in the second term of Gov. Bobby Jindal, and we hope that both sides will take that as a lesson to avoid. Hard feelings continue over these issues; the sweeping 2012 education laws backed by Jindal were passed over an outcry from teachers unions and school boards running the traditional systems. Now, the new governor will have to ask lawmakers for many tough votes on budget and taxes. Edwards might find it hard going to force major bills through on other matters, including charter schools.
A bit of calm on the education front could be the practical outcome of the legislative sessions so intensely focused on financial concerns.