Why the New Orleans School Board Is Against a Senate Bill to Increase Its Power

A state bill to increase the authority of the Orleans Parish School Board over its own charter schools was opposed by the board at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Council chairman Olin Parker said the council’s opposition should not be seen as a guaranteed preference for the status quo, but rather as a reluctance to be left out of the legislative process.

While the author of the bill, says Senator Joseph Bouie (D-New Orleans), informed the council that he was working on new legislation, Parker said he did not share the text of the bill with the council before tabling it.

“It’s not collaboration. It’s dictation,” Parker said, adding that the board has shown an extreme willingness to work with elected officials, including Bouie.

What the bill says

Senate Bill 404 was presented in late March and referred to the state Education Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The bill would dramatically change the balance of power in the district by allowing the New Orleans School Board to decide which aspects of day-to-day operations control individual charter operators.

Bouie is listed as the lead sponsor of the bill with ten co-sponsors, which he says represents 80% of New Orleans’ legislative delegation.

“We came forward with the bill as a means by which we can save our public school system, our children and our community,” Bouie said at Tuesday’s special board meeting, which was called specifically to discuss SB 404.

The bill as drafted significantly changes Act 91the document that delineates power between the New Orleans School Board and its independent operators.

Charter operators currently enjoy autonomy in many areas, including curriculum, employment, teacher certification, and salaries and benefits, unless otherwise specified in their contract.

Under the Bouie bill, charter operators would no longer be guaranteed autonomy in these areas. Instead, it would be up to the board to decide which of these aspects each individual charter has control over.

New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit that works closely with the city’s charter schools, publicly called on the board to oppose SB 404 at a board meeting earlier this month. ci, arguing that the bill could be used to eliminate charter school autonomy altogether.

“When we talk about a charter school, it’s that autonomy and accountability that makes them very special and that balance,” said Holly Reid, NSNO’s chief policy and portfolio officer.

Reid said areas over which New Orleans charters do not have autonomy include registration, transportation and evictions.

Bouie’s reasoning

At Tuesday’s meeting, and in a letter Bouie last year repeatedly called the city’s charter system a failed experiment and cited a 2015 Stanford University study and a state legislative auditor’s report last year as proof.

The purpose of the Auditthat Bouie asked, was to determine whether the district and state are analyzing academic performance from New Orleans charter schools and identifying best practices.

Although the district and state use standardized test scores to analyze academic performance, they don’t consider whether specific practices are responsible, according to the audit, which found both entities remained in compliance with laws. of State.

The Stanford study found that New Orleans public schools were “highly stratified by race, class, and educational advantage” after Katrina, and therefore the reforms did not benefit all students equally.

Parker said in an interview after the meeting that he believes the study highlighted by Bouie provides an inaccurate assessment of what is happening in New Orleans based on limited data and faulty sampling.

Instead, he pointed to a more recent study by another group of Stanford researchers who found that New Orleans public school students showed stronger growth in math and reading over a three-year period than the state average.

He also referred to the vast body of research conducted by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans as further proof that the city’s current system is working.

“Frankly, I don’t care what school mode we use as long as it improves outcomes for kids,” he said.

What the council resolution says

The council resolution, which passed 4-1, asks the Senate Education Committee to defer the vote on SB 404 until “all interested parties” have been included in the discussion and the “potential unintended consequences” of the project legislation have been fully considered.

Board members Ethan Ashley and JC Wagner Romero were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Parker said one consequence could be the creation of a system where charters have different levels of autonomy, which would lead to further disparities in the district.

His other concern is that operators unhappy with the new arrangement could leave the district and seek a charter from the state instead, taking funds and students with them. There are currently six public schools in New Orleans that are state-approved.

Nolan Marshall, the only council member who voted against the resolution, said he supported the bill even though he disagreed with Bouie’s decision not to work directly with the council.

“I am in favor of the council restoring its authority. There is no doubt about it,” he said.

How audience members feel

Tuesday’s special board meeting drew a large audience, and more than 30 people spoke during the public comment period, nearly all in favor of SB 404.

“If you vote not to do your job, resign immediately,” said Alicia Plummer, a former candidate for New Orleans City Council, whose statement was echoed by many.

Brooke Grant, an education professor at Tulane University who has three children who attend charter schools in the city, said the board has an obligation to parents to increase its power.

“As parents, we have no influence over who sets educational policies for our children,” she said. “But the people we elect are you, so all of you should be setting the policies for our children.”

Some speakers and members of the public grew increasingly hostile during the discussion, repeatedly interrupting the meeting and even threatening the council with physical violence. A few people were eventually evacuated by security.

Dana Peterson, the new CEO of New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), spoke in support of the board’s resolution, along with Sarah Vandergriff Kelley of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

“I know that the leaders of the board of directors are afraid of the decisions [this board and future boards could take]said board member Marshall. “But I don’t think anyone should be afraid.”

He said the sooner the debate over the district’s power structure is settled, the better.

“We need to put this aside once and for all and start collaborating on the things we need to do for the kids,” he said. “There is nothing to worry about us controlling our own future.”

Norman D. Briggs