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LOUISIANA: BESE approves Lafayette charter schools

charter-school-approvalCharter schools are coming to Lafayette Parish.

During a Tuesday committee meeting, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved applications for a total of five charter schools in the district. The full board meets again Wednesday, but the vote then is widely expected to be only a formality.

BESE members Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill voted against the applications.

“It’s not about being procharter. It’s about what’s right for this district at this time, and it’s about the kids,” Superintendent Pat Cooper said after the vote. “This is also going to give the board an opportunity to maneuver a little bit, not be so worried about having money to spend. We’ll be able to look more at the overall, big picture.”

Charter Schools USA and National Heritage Academies have both established local governing boards and will now being moving forward on creating schools in Lafayette Parish. Charter Schools USA plans to open three schools here, and National Heritage Academies plans to open two. Both companies have said they would like to have one K-8 school open in Lafayette Parish by the start of the 2014-15 school year.

The decision came after more than two hours of public comments from more than two dozen people. The comments touched on a wide range of topics, including charter schools’ academic performance, the application review process, whether charters would truly help serve at-risk students and whether they would divert resources away from traditional public schools.

Some argued that parents need to have more educational choices, especially in areas where schools traditionally perform poorly. Greg Davis, a member of 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, said that is particularly true in north Lafayette.

“I urge you to approve the applications,” Davis said. “We believe that the parents in our area, where most of us live, north Lafayette, where there are D and F schools, deserve other options. We believe those parents value education; we believe their children want to get a great education, and if given the choice, they would choose to go to a charter school. We are ready for other options. Parents would welcome them and apply.”

Mary Louella Cook, president of CSUSA’s local board, said the charter schools could help improve Lafayette’s overall educational landscape.

“We are capable of providing three state-of-the-art schools with robust and rigorous curriculums emphasizing technology and college prep,” Cook said. “It is our belief that if we do not step in now and assist the Lafayette Parish School Board in dealing with their educational challenges, that each year these challenges are not addressed, we lose a population of students who will never meet their educational potential.”

But most of the commenters said they are opposed to the charter schools. Some said state and federal funding could be diverted away from traditional public schools. Others noted that at least two of the schools are slated to be built in Sugar Mill Pond and Couret Farms, which are newer neighborhoods that will probably not have a high population of the at-risk students that charter schools traditionally serve.

“I wish I could rise in support of the charter schools,” said former Lafayette school board member Mike Hefner. “But these are going to be in two of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Lafayette Parish, with A and B schools. There are not going to be a lot of kids that have a lot of at-risk problems … There is no plan for transportation, so parents cannot get them to the school. I’m also concerned whether they are going to be able to meet the needs and attract the kids. This might have the unintended consequence of denying Lafayette the ability to move forward as a first-class system because of a lack of funding.”

Many also questioned whether it was appropriate for a state board to make a decision that affects local residents, especially after the Lafayette Parish School Board denied the applications last month.

“It’s a bit presumptuous and hypocritical to say that if a school passes a third-party evaluator, you need that school in your community,” said Noel Hammatt, a Baton Rouge-based education researcher. “Forcing it on that community that’s trying to work together is an example of utter hypocrisy, when you say you’re all about local control.”

BESE member Holly Boffy, who represents most of the Lafayette area, said local parents will ultimately make the decision about whether charters will work in the district.

“If no parent wants their children in charter schools, then these schools will not be successful. My preference would have been for the local school system to approve these as Type I charters. That’s not the way that it worked,” Boffy said. “I know for a fact that there are children that are not being served and there are parents who do not have the choices I have … I do think that this is a historic day for Lafayette Parish.”

Kathleen Espinoza, one of the founding members of the Swamp BESE parents group that opposed the charters, said the vote was “a bit predictable” but still “disappointing.”

Espinoza said she and other parents will now focus on making sure the charter schools provide the best possible education for students and live up to standards such as providing adequate transportation.

“We have to make sure the schools are held accountable,” she said.

Source: – by Amanda McElfresh

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Louisiana and tagged .


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