Selected readings on US charter schools
BATON ROUGE – Charter schools, especially those seeking to come to Lafayette Parish or already located there, survived two pieces of legislation Thursday that could threaten their existence or economic viability.
The Senate Education Committee killed House Bill 703, which sought to prohibit the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from overriding local school board denial in districts graded A, B or C in the state accountability program, and stripped provisions in Senate Bill 666, a Lafayette Parish School System-sponsored bill to keep dedicated local tax funds from going to charters.
Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, author of SB666, had trouble from the start. He tried several times to get his bill scheduled and at Thursday’s hearing immediately got the committee to take out the primary parts — protecting school board funds paid to retire state teacher retirement debt.
He got approval to change it to a bill that prevents school boards from having to share dedicated tax revenue with charter schools. Lafayette Superintendent of Schools Pat Cooper joined Cortez in arguing for the measure, which would keep all the revenue from local tax elections dedicated to teacher pay raises and construction.
Cortez argued that because the funds were dedicated, having to share with charter schools, which current law requires, could violate the legal commitment to teachers and taxpayers who voted to approve the tax assessments. He pointed out, “If we had dedicated it to bonds, we would be in violation of the provisions of the bond sale.”
Cooper said under the current provisions, $2 million of the $26 million for raises would go to charter schools that have teachers not employed by the school system and they would not be required to use the money for teacher salaries.
“We’re doing all we can to help charters flourish because they are our children,” he said. However, “I don’t know where we would find this kind of money” to replace the funds going to charters.
The parish system also has to surrender funds normally received through the state public school funding formula.
Beth Scioneaux, deputy superintendent for finance in Department of Education, said school systems don’t have to share tax revenue for capital construction. But she cautioned that it would take significant sums from every charter school in the state, not just Lafayette.
Cooper was asked if he was OK with the bill if he just had to share the teacher tax money.
He responded, “I’m OK until I get back to Lafayette and teachers say you’ve got $26 million but you just gave away $2 million and now you’ve got to borrow $2 million to replace what belongs to charters.”
During debate, several technical problems arose. The power went out, the sound system wouldn’t work, when it came back on it was broadcasting debate from the House of Representatives and the committee had to take another recess to reprogram the recording program.
After several attempts to amend SB666, Cortez pleaded for the committee to allow him to get something out so he could work on it to make improvements.
The panel stripped all the provisions of the bill, leaving it with the existing law before approving it.
Cortez said he would work with several parties to see what he could work out before trying to move the bill in the Senate.
In another Lafayette-related dispute that fared even worse for Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, the committee rejected his House-passed HB703. He said it would “restore autonomy if a school system is performing well. When a school board is functioning well, it ought to be responsible for its own decisions.”
But the committee disagreed.
Edwards cited the situation in Lafayette Parish, a B system, where three charter schools applied to the school board for permission to operate. When the school board rejected them, they appealed to BESE and that board overrode the local decision.
That means the local school board has to share its revenues with the charters because they are considered public schools, though operated by for-profit corporations.
LPSB President Hunter Beasley said the parish already has numerous alternatives for parents — schools of choice in different specialties and its own charter school — so the school board didn’t see a need for three more schools.
Edwards said those offerings cost the school system but the programs contributed to its obtaining the B grade.
Beasley said the bill was “allowing school districts to make decisions and not tying their hands.”
Committee members, including Sens. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, and Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, argued that just because school districts have high grades doesn’t mean they don’t have students in failing schools that could benefit from charters.
Kathleen Espinoza of Lafayette, representing a group called “Swap BESE,” said the bill “prevents for-profit companies from siphoning money from neighborhood schools.” She said BESE is “overstepping its authority” because local school boards are charged with establishing schools in their districts. “Don’t force our hands by approving schools that drain our resources.”
Ann Burruss, representing Power of Public Education Lafayette, said that of the 1,500 students seeking to attend the new charter schools to be located in Lafayette Parish, 60 percent are from public schools, 20 percent are from private and parochial schools and 20 percent are from outside the parish.
After arguments against the bill by Veronica Brooks, head of the Association of Charter Schools, Brigitte Nieland of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Stephanie Desselle of the Council for a Better Louisiana and Superintendent of Education John White, the committee unanimously killed HB703.
Source: The Adviser – by Mike Hasten