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After years of working exclusively in New Orleans, KIPP, the prominent charter school network, was approved Monday to expand upriver to start three schools in Baton Rouge.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board also agreed to let one of the capital city’s older charter school networks, CSAL, add an elementary school to serve as a feeder for its middle school of the same name and its high school, Madison Prep.

The board then moved quickly, with unanimous votes, to reject three more charter applicants: Louisiana Connections Academy, Auspice Academy and Carmouche Performing Arts Academy.

The vote for KIPP was 6-2 and the vote for CSAL was 7-1. Board member Connie Bernard was absent.

Dawn Collins voted against all applicants. Evelyn Ware-Jackson voted no on KIPP:New Orleans' proposal.

Initially positive, Ware-Jackson said she was concerned after hearing from a handful of speakers who drove up from New Orleans to tell horror stories about how KIPP handles discipline matters there.

"I don't know who to believe," Ware-Jackson said.

Maria Harmon, co-founder of community organizing group, Step Up Louisiana, harshly criticized what she described as a system of indoctrination and public shaming at KIPP schools.

“I’m telling you now you don’t want this kind of program in your school district,” Harmon said. “It won’t benefit black children, not at all. The only thing it does is prepare them for prison.”

Speaking only about the organization's New Orleans schools, Joey LaRoche, chief strategy officer for KIPP:New Orleans and a former high school principal, said such complaints are wrong.

"I can say categorically, none of those things are happening in our schools," LaRoche said.

The votes Monday night matched the recommendations of outside evaluator Mary "Katie" Blunschi, a former school administrator.

Of the 10 applicants this year, four were approved. They now have permission to open in time for the start of 2020-21 school year.

On Thursday, the board approved expansion plans for two other applicants: Arizona-based BASIS.ed and Baton Rouge-based Helix Community Schools.

The nonprofit group New Schools For Baton Rouge endorsed and pledged financial support for all four of the successful applicants.

Rejected applicants now have the chance to appeal to state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to obtain a charter.

There are currently 29 charter schools in Baton Rouge that educate about 10,000 children. Ten are chartered by the parish school system, and they educate about 3,800 children.

KIPP, short for Knowledge Is Power Program, has been celebrated since it opened high-performing middle schools in Houston and New York City in the 1990s. It came to New Orleans in 2005 and now has seven schools there.

KIPP first applied for a charter in Baton Rouge back in 2001 but withdrew its application after receiving a skeptical reaction at the time from some board members.

Rolfe McCollister, publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report, has been a supporter of KIPP’s from the beginning and has long complained about what happened in 2001.

“KIPP, like BASIS, is one of the best charter operators in America,” McCollister said after Monday's vote. “Baton Rouge took a step forward today, 18 years late.”

After the meeting, LaRoche said KIPP wants to use district facilities for its three schools and plans to start negotiations right away with hopes of having agreements for at least two facilities by November.

If successful, KIPP would be the first new charter school since 2011 to secure a lease to an East Baton Rouge Parish school property.

CSAL, short for Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, opened in 1997. Its new elementary would start with 175 and grow to about 400 students by 2024.

Dujan Johnson, CSAL’s executive director, said parents have long wanted CSAL to open an elementary school. He said the organization has purchased property in the 1600 block of Choctaw Road and plans to build an elementary school at a cost of roughly $4.5 million. He said he plans to pick a school leader for the new elementary by July and already has 15 applicants for a job that’s not officially open yet.

The four approved charter applications will come at an uncertain, but potentially high, cost. If they meet their growth targets, these schools would take with them an estimated $20 million in funding in 2020-21, growing to more than $70 million four years later.

Harder-to-estimate savings will come from educating fewer children in traditional public schools, but auditors have told the school system through the years that such savings are minimal.

The prospect of directing so much money to charter schools was a bitter pill for some speakers Monday, coming as the school system is in the midst of trying to identify $25 million-plus in budget cuts to avoid dipping further into its reserves.

Leaders of local teacher unions had pressed for a moratorium on new charter schools, but to no avail.

“Get ready to turn the lights off, ladies and gentleman, because that’s where we’re headed,” said a distraught Tia Mills, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators.

KIPP alone is estimated to draw as much as $34 million if it manages to enroll its maximum of nearly 3,000 in grades K-12.

James Crochet, chief business operations officer for the school district, admitted the estimates are a worst-case scenario, that few charter schools enroll all the students they legally can.

But board member Collins said if the new charters cost even half what’s estimated, it’s a cost that's far too high.

Key details from the five applications considered Monday:

KIPP: New Orleans

# of Schools in Network: 224.

# of Schools Sought: 3.

School Leader: Not reported.

Locations: Not reported.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Start): 477 in 2020-21 in grades K-1, 5 and 9.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Peak): 2,462 (2,954 max) by 2025-26 in grades K-12.

Economically Disadvantaged Target: 95 percent.

Special Education Target: 14 percent.

Per-Pupil Spending: $18,534 in Year 1; $12,101 at Year 5.

Notable: KIPP, short for Knowledge Is Power Program, has been celebrated since it opened high-performing middle schools in Houston and New York City in the 1990s. It came to New Orleans in 2005 and now has seven schools there. This would be its first foray in Baton Rouge, though it has seriously considered setting up shop here before. The nonprofit group, New Schools For Baton Rouge, has pledged an estimated $1.7 million in startup money to KIPP.

Once known for long school days and years and for working exclusively in middle schools, many KIPP schools now have a more traditional schedule. The network also operates elementary and high schools. It has increased its emphasis on college through the years. Its high school in Baton Rouge plans to offer AP courses, dual college enrollment, calculus and environmental science. College counselors attend specific classes with students to prepare them for college/career.

Evaluator Recommendation: Approve. Reasons include “acceptable academic performance” at KIPP’s New Orleans schools, including a B letter grade at its lone high school there, as well as a strong application: “The application is comprehensive in nature and supported by research with data aligned to the central mission of improved student achievement.”


# of Schools in Network: 3 (all in Baton Rouge)

# of Schools Sought: 1.

School Leader: Not reported.

Location: 1600 block of Choctaw Drive (new facility).

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Start): 175 in 2020-21 in grades K-2.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Peak): 400 by 2024-25 in grades K-5.

Economically Disadvantaged Target: 85 percent.

Special Education Target: 5 percent.

Per-Pupil Spending: $30,999 in Year 1; $8,385 in Year 5.

Notable: CSAL currently operates two brick-and-mortar schools in Baton Rouge, CSAL Middle and Madison Preparatory Academy High School, which opened in 1997 and 2009, respectively. Short for Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, CSAL now wants to open an elementary feeder school in response to demand from parents. The group is in talks with New Schools for Baton Rouge about financing construction of the new school; CSAL’s budget calls for an initial construction budget of about $5.4 million. The elementary schools would adapt CSAL’s methods to “to better fit the needs of younger students,” while preserving its core components. The school will focus on “center-based learning, experiential learning, and explicit social and emotional development. CSAL, unlike many other local charter schools, has kept up good relations through the years with the school system.

Evaluator Recommendation: Approve. Reasons focused on the pluses of Madison Prep, including higher-than-average rate of students enrolling in college, ACT scores, as well as results from students of color as well as those living in poverty. “The leadership at CSAL has successfully managed a school, a team of teachers and academic programs that show academic growth."

Louisiana Connections Academy

# of Schools in Network: 39.

# of Schools Sought: 1.

School Leader: Not reported.

Location: Not reported.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Start): 500 in 2020-21 in grades K-12.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Peak): 3100 (3,720 max) by 2024-25 in grades K-12.

Economically Disadvantaged Target: 44 percent.

Special Education Target: 12 percent.

Per-Pupil Spending: $9,125 in Year 1; $9,463 in Year 5.

Notable: This applicant ran an online school of the same name in Baton Rouge from 2011 to 2017. The proposed school is a franchise of Columbia, Maryland-based Connections Education, a division of textbook giant Pearsons.

Evaluator Recommendation: Deny. Reasons include other online schools already available in Baton Rouge, low performance of other Connections Academy schools in math and English, curricula that is not Tier 1 as defined by Louisiana Department of Education, potential reliance on parents as “learning coaches” at home and indications that the school hopes to enroll rural students outside the parish.

Auspice Academy

# of Schools in Network: 0.

# of Schools Sought: 1.

School Leader: Lacretia Terrance, faculty member with San Francisco-based Buck Institute for Education.

Location: 1335 Wooddale Blvd., rental.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Start): 80 in 2020-21 in grades K-3.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Peak): 260 (312 max) by 2024-25 in grades K-12.

Economically Disadvantaged Target: 76.3 percent.

Special Education Target: 13 percent.

Per-Pupil Spending: $27,996 in Year 1; $13,522 in Year 5.

Notable: Online school for students who are “a danger to themselves and/or others as well as students whom parents deem it necessary to home school.” A “child-specific therapist” would serve children at home in the presence of a parent. Classes to have five to seven students each. Teachers will visit students for two hours each week. The applications lists seven administrators by name and job title. The application is riddled with typos.

Evaluator Recommendation: Deny. Reasons include concerns about finances, no student handbook, no transportation plan for in-person instruction, a background check issue with the facilities director and lack of certification by the school leader/executive director.

Carmouche Performing Arts Academy

# of Schools in Network: 0.

# of Schools Sought: 1

School Leader: Latasha Skidmore, currently principal of Children’s Charter School in Baton Rouge.

Location: Renting space, unclear where.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Start): 175 in 2020-21 in grades 6-9.

Enrollment & Grade Configuration (Peak): 575 (690 max) by 2024-25 in grades 6-12.

Economically Disadvantaged Target: 95 percent.

Special Education Target: 50 percent.

Per-Pupil Spending: $16,201 in Year 1; $6,932 in Year 5.

Notable: A performing arts school where at-risk students “develop critical thinking, creative expression and basic learning skills through the arts. An after-school program of this name is already operating in New Orleans. Like that program, the school founder is Todrick Carmouche, of New Orleans, currently director of the marching and pep bands at Southern University in New Orleans. Teaching artists would work together with with classroom teachers. Students would have to audition to gain admittance.

Evaluator Recommendation: Deny. Reasons include “very general” information on the performing arts the school would offer, no budget for student transportation and no money set aside for a counselor or librarian. Also of concern are eight prior arrests of Carmouche between 2004 and 2008.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.