Study: Louisiana charter school policies strong

Willow Charter Academy is one of three charter schools that operate in Lafayette. A new study shows Louisiana has strong charter school policies in place. (Photo: Amanda McElfresh, The Advertiser)

Louisiana ranks 10th in the country — tied with Oklahoma — when it comes to state policies that promote a strong charter school sector, according to a new national study.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers gave Louisiana 24 points out of a possible 33 points. It also noted that 73 percent of the state’s charter schools are authorized by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The analysis shows that Louisiana received all 15 possible points in the category of authorizer quality. Louisiana was noted for having a state law that requires authorizers to develop standards, which generally must comply with national standards. In addition, the association said there are sanctions possible for local charter school authorizers.

To open a charter school, an operator — such as Charter Schools USA or National Heritage Academies, which have schools in Lafayette — must receive approval from either a local school board or the state school board. An operator can appeal to the state level if it is rejected by local school officials. The Lafayette Parish School Board rejected CSUSA and NHA’s applications two years ago, but both were later authorized by BESE.

“State law allows sanctions for poor portfolio performance or failure to meet standards for quality authorizing,” the report stated. “Sanctions can include revocation of authorizing power or authority to grant new charters.”

Jennifer Saba, the NACSA’s director of state policy, said five other states besides Louisiana received the maximum number of available points in terms of authorizer quality.

“There are eight known best practices that we consider to be essential for the health and success of a high performing charter sector,” Saba said. “We scored each state against those known best practices. In looking at Louisiana law that pertain to quality, Louisiana did have statutes or rules in place that would have met all of our requirements to get the full points in those categories.”

In Louisiana, opinions on charter schools vary greatly. Some believe that the schools provide a viable option for parents who may be dissatisfied with traditional public schools in their areas. Others say charters unfairly take away funding and resources from public school districts, leaving less money to improve struggling schools.

The study showed a mixed bag for Louisiana in the study’s school accountability category. Louisiana received zero points, out of a possible three, for performance reports, since “state law does not require authorizers to produce an annual public report on the academic performance of their portfolios of charter schools.”

Louisiana also received zero points, out of a possible six, because its state policy does not provide for a default closure for failure to meet minimum academic standards. However, BESE-authorized schools do have a minimum academic performance requirement for charter schools, and charters may not be renewed if schools have continued low performance.

But Louisiana received all nine possible points for renewal standards, since charters are not extended for organizations whose schools do not achieve their stated goals, and for performance management. State law requires a charter contract and performance compact, while high-performing schools can open additional campuses through a streamlined process.

“In Louisiana, there is an annual (charter school) report requirement, but the report is sort of thin,” Saba said. “It does not specifically require information on academic performance. Our recommendation would be to supplement what is in the statute with more school performance information.”

Louisiana charter schools are included in the annual school performance scores and letter grades that are released each fall by the state education department. In addition, standardized test scores from Louisiana charter schools were included in this year’s statewide score reports.

Saba said the report is not intended to be a reflection on the quality of charter schools in Louisiana or anywhere else.

“It’s really to look at whether the states have strong policies in place that are the key ingredients for a successful charter sector,” she said.

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