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Students hop off a school bus on Highland Road near Lee Drive, Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is considering requiring that its 10 charter schools maintain at least a C letter grade if they want renewal of their operating contracts, higher than the minimum D grade the state allows.

This is part of the school system's new 49-page “Charter School Policy.”

The School Board, meeting as a committee of the whole, is planning to hold its first debate on this new policy Thursday at 5 p.m. The new policy could receive a final vote at the board’s regular Aug. 15 meeting.

The new policy closely mirrors the policy the Louisiana Department of Education follows for authorizing and renewing charter schools, but sets a higher bar at points.

Here are other key areas with a higher proposed bar:

  • Applicants with charter schools already in operation somewhere in Louisiana need at least a C letter grade; the state allows a D letter grade. This would not apply to applicants with no track record or ones running charter schools in other states.
  • Seven years is the longest a charter could be renewed; the state allows a maximum 10-year renewal.

“We did increase the standards in key academic areas, mainly the letter grades and the renewal terms,” said Andrea O’Konski, chief of accountability, assessment & evaluation for the school system.

The minimum C letter grade for charter renewals has one exception. If a charter school has a C letter grade every year but dips to a D in the last year of their contract, they can still obtain a renewal.

O’Konski said this exception would come into play if the state in the future makes big changes to its school grading scale, like it did in 2018. There were many schools that year that dropped a letter grade because of the tougher grading scale.

“We didn’t want anybody to be caught up in an old scale, new scale thing,” she said.

There are 26 charter schools authorized to operate in East Baton Rouge Parish for the soon-to-start 2019-20 school year.

Ten of them are Type 1 charters, meaning they have charters with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. At least four more Type 1 charters are set to open in 2020.

Of the 10 Type 1 charters in Baton Rouge, only six have letter grades. And of those, only two, CSAL and Mentorship Academy, have the minimum C letter grade they’ll need under the new policy to have their contracts renewed.

O’Konski said the proposed charter school policy has been in the making for almost two years, but the final draft was shaped largely by an internal working group that included her, General Counsel Gwynn Shamlin and board members Tramelle Howard and Evelyn Ware-Jackson.

O'Konski said a draft of the policy was shared on June 4 at meetings with district charter school leaders and with a wide array of local education stakeholder groups. She said the discussion at those meetings prompted changes.

“It was a good conversation,” O’Konksi said. “I think at the end of the day, everyone contributed a piece of it. We were very appreciative of the feedback.”

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The proposed policy grew out of frustration of some charter school applicants and supporters who argued the parish school system has been too subjective in its authorizing and oversight of charter schools. Putting such a policy in place was a key plank in several 2018 campaigns for School Board, with enthusiastic backing from pro-charter school groups.

“There was no policy,” O’Konski said. “There was a process.”

Heretofore, the school system has followed state rules for charter schools, codified in Bulletin 126, in determining how charter school applications are judged and when they would be renewed or closed.

Bulletin 126 sets much of the table but leaves many key decisions to the discretion of local school districts.

To standardize the process, the state created a special “charter school performance compact” for its applicants. A few other local districts, most prominently Orleans Parish, have adopted similar policies or compacts. O’Konski said she hopes the new policy offers more clarity to applicants.

“It was just to avoid confusion and keep it as simple and clean as possible,” she said.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.