Even as the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has moved to quickly spend a $2.2 million school improvement grant, including rolling out new curricula in math and English, it is moving more slowly on parts of the grant of keen interest to charter school supporters in Baton Rouge.
Several groups that support expanding school choice in Baton Rouge, including charter schools, have pressed the school system to use the Every Student Succeeds Act grant to expand “high quality options” as alternatives to the district’s 32 schools that have D and F letter grades from the state of Louisiana.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is likely to receive almost $2 million in federal funding to help improve classroom instruction at 3…
In this vein, the grant application calls for hiring an executive director of portfolio and planning as a point person overseeing and engaging with current and future charter schools coming to Baton Rouge.
Currently, 29 charter schools — public schools run privately via charters, or contracts — operate in East Baton Rouge Parish, up from 26 last year. Ten have Type 1 charters issued by parish school system. Those numbers are likely to grow.
Drawing on a metaphor from the financial world, some school districts with a growing number of charter schools have created “portfolio” offices. In Louisiana, both the Orleans Parish school system and the Louisiana Department of Education have them. Rather than buying or selling securities, such portfolio offices manage a suite of schools and make recommendations about whether to expand, revamp or close them depending on their academic performance and other factors.
The East Baton Rouge grant application also calls for adopting a new charter authorization policy that is “in line with best practices and with clear accountability for unsatisfactory academic performance.” The new policy would be “based on explicit and transparent assessments of school academic performance” and “organizational health and financial health.”
And parish school leaders set a date, pledging to submit a new charter authorization policy to the board for a vote no later than June 1. The Orleans Parish School Board adopted a very similar Charter School Accountability Framework in mid-May for the dozens of charter schools it oversees.
Two months later, though, the East Baton Rouge School Board has yet to take up either the authorization policy issue or the new portfolio position. And since the grant award is $1.2 million less than what East Baton Rouge Parish asked for and only for one year — there’s a chance to get two more years of funding in the spring — it’s not clear what parts of the original application will be funded and which ones won’t.
As it readies to start spending millions on improving its lowest-performing schools, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board received a lot o…
The School Board held a special meeting on July 18 and heard a presentation on the grant, but it touched only briefly on the aspects of the grant that dealt with charter schools, though a few members of the audience publicly encouraged the board to proceed with the charter school aspects.
Board President David Tatman said the school system has had a very busy summer getting ready for the 2018-19 school year, which began on Thursday, but that this is coming.
“I’ve had conversations in leadership meetings with staff, and it’s clearly something they’ve been talking about,” Tatman said.
Tatman said school staff are researching the best way to handle these changes, saying there’s a lot to work out. He said he doesn’t know where the June 1 date came from, but he said he thinks the board will ultimately approve the changes.
“It’s not easy to put it together," Tatman said, "but I don’t think anyone would object to us working with our district charter schools more effectively.”
Carrie Griffin Monica, executive director of Stand For Children Louisiana, a parent group that supports charter schools, said her organization is urging school board members to move quickly, but is doubtful.
“Realistically, with the politics at play, I’m not sure that will happen,” Monica said.
The politics she’s referring to are the Nov. 6 elections when six incumbent School Board members are seeking re-election.
Tatman, who is one of three board members who won re-election without opposition, dismissed that concern, saying he expects the board to vote on the changes before Nov. 6.
Several groups have expressed support for the charter school pieces of the school system’s ESSA grant.
For instance, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber is pressing candidates for School Board to promise votes on 10 policies, including those that would increase school choice opportunities.
Monica said she’d like to see a new charter school authorization policy that is less subjective. For instance, local school boards often deny charter schools on the basis that they are not innovative.
“Say what is innovative, say what does that mean, and develop criteria for whether the school fits in within the school system or not,” she said.
Monica also likes something Orleans Parish recently adopted: mandating charter schools to hold meetings at the start of each school year to share with parents their current charter status with the district so parents aren’t caught off guard later if the district seeks to close the schools.
“They have to talk about what they are going to do to try to change,” she said.
Ciara Hart, an eighth-grade teacher in Baton Rouge, favors the idea of a portfolio office, but she’d like it to go further than currently envisioned.
Hart, who is co-chair of the group South Louisiana Coalition for Education, said the office should be a joint state-local entity that also has authority over state-sponsored charter schools. And it needs to be both an information clearinghouse and have some authority to hold charter schools accountable, she said.
For instance, she said she’s talked to several parents of charter school students who are frustrated with the lack of communication they receive from the schools about their board meetings. She’d like a portfolio office to police that problem.
“If the parents and the community aren’t allowed to be there and participate, then those meetings are null and void,” she said.
Monica, however, said those are not concerns she hears much from Stand For Children parents and is not a role her organization is envisioning for the portfolio office.
“We haven’t thought it as a place to go if they have a bad actor,” Monica said.