Three charter schools lose authorization
Citing state law, and despite pleas from students and community members, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to pull the charters of two struggling New Orleans charter schools and one in Baton Rouge.
Following a recommendation by Superintendent of Education John White, the board denied charter extensions to McDonogh No. 42 and Milestone Academy in New Orleans and Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Baton Rouge.
According to reports, McDonogh No. 42 will be assigned to a new management group by the recovery School District, and Milestone will be shut down. Milestone, which has had a checkered history and has had to change locations, reportedly recently signed a multi-year lease on its current location.
In Baton Rouge, sign-waving protestors failed to save Baton Rouge Charter Academy, which is operated by a for-profit Charter Schools USA, housed in Florida. In four years, the school has never been rated higher than “F”.
State policy calls for closing F-rated charters after four years, but allows BESE to grant a waiver if all other schools in the area are also labeled as failures. Because there other, more successful options in the same area, White said, he recommended closure of the school.
Two other Charter Schools USA schools are at risk of closure. Iberville Charter Academy in Plaquemine has been rated “F” since it opened in 2014. South Baton Rouge Charter Academy was rated “F”, but has raised its ranking to “D”. Both schools could face closure if they are graded “F” after spring testing.
BESE deferred decisions on closing Linwood Charter School in Shreveport and Northshore Charter in Bogalusa, both rated “F”, to give the Department of Education time to decide if they meet the criteria for a waiver.
New rubric may save special needs school
A politically well-connected charter school that serves dyslexic students was granted a reprieve by BESE despite its failing grade.
Louisiana Key Academy is operated by Dr. Laura Cassidy, wife of U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy. Her Baton Rouge school, which was authorized by BESE in 2012, earned an “F” as its 2016 letter grade.
Superintendent of Education John White said the school “has not met the conditions for extension” of its charter because students from the school would not be attending failing schools in the area if it closed.
But citing the school’s unique mission, BESE President Jim Garvey convinced the board to grant a probationary 30-day extension to the school’s charter.
By next month, Garvey said, it should be possible to develop a rubric to measure the progress of students in the school. Otherwise, he said, “the school is going to fail every year.”
The alternative rubric, Garvey said, should look at how other Louisiana schools deal with dyslexic children and how other schools nationwide handle the special education needs of that population.
BESE and others are also working to understand how Louisiana’s school accountability system fits in with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The issue at Louisiana Key Academy raised big questions about the fairness and accuracy of the entire school report card process.
Status of public education funding discussed
With the state facing a grim fiscal future, BESE’s MFP Task Force met on December 7 to look at the status of the formula that sends state education funds to local school systems. The meeting was held as state officials announced that Louisiana faces a deficit in the current year of about $300 million.
Superintendent of Education John White reported that public education’s Minimum Foundation Program’s base per-pupil amount has only increased once in the past four years because of the state’s dire financial situation.
Over the past three years, he said, a total of $113 million has been added to public education funding though direct appropriation not linked to the MFP.
Total funding for 2016-17 equals $3.669 billion, White said, including $3.649 billion inside the formula and $20 million outside the formula; last year, the legislature approved $44 million outside the formula. That $24 million reduction marked the first time in recent history that K-12 funding was actually cut by the legislature.
The base cost per-pupil in this year’s formula is $3,961. That has not changed since the 2014-15 school year. The formula includes weights to change the formula in each district according to special needs and local funding efforts.
Based on last year’s final student count, White said, the MFP for the past school year was $8.2 million less than what had been appropriated. Constitutionally, the legislature must make up the difference.
The task force will recommend a 2017-18 funding formula to BESE at the January 17-18 board meeting. BESE will consider the formula at its March 7-8 meeting, and must present the proposed formula to the legislature by March 15.
Lawmakers have the option of approving or rejecting the formula, but may not change it.
LFT is one of the organizations with a seat on the task force. Added to the list of members this month were Stand for Children, the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana and the Louisiana School Employees Retirement system.
Accountability Commission grapples with school report cards
Would changing the way Louisiana grades schools result in a more accurate way to measure student growth, or would it allow schools to inflate their success by earning extra points?
That is the issue discussed by BESE’s Accountability Commission as it considered measuring student growth by whether they meet or exceed annual benchmarks. However, students who fail to meet growth targets could still earn points for their school’s report card if their growth is greater than other students at the school.
Currently, the growth of struggling students accounts for seven percent of the scores that become school letter grades. That growth will apply to all students and become 25 percent of the score under Superintendent of Education John White’s proposal.
Supporters of the plan say it measures growth in two ways, by meeting or exceeding annual targets and by outperforming peers. That gives a better overall perspective of a school’s success, they believe. Low achieving students and those with learning disabilities could contribute to the school’s success even though they probably could not meet annual growth targets.
Opponents, however, say the plan would allow schools to inflate their grades by earning extra points.
The disagreement fell along predictable lines. Teacher organizations, school boards, superintendents and other supporters of public education were supportive of the two-pronged approach.
Big business interests and organizations that generally endorse market-based reforms tended to disagree.
The commission will meet again on January 9, when the Department of Education is expected to provide simulations showing how the new system would evaluate schools.