BATON ROUGE - Through landmark legislation enacted earlier this year, families with students in chronically low performing schools across Louisiana will have more educational choices than ever before, according to State Superintendent of Education John White. Louisiana received 49 charter school applications this year including a record 26 applications for new charter schools, a five-fold increase over the previous year. The announcement was made at the August meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), where the full board also approved an accelerated timeline and streamlined process to expand charter options for Louisiana families. Empowering families with the ability to make important decisions about a child's education is part of the state's comprehensive plan for continued improvement, Louisiana Believes.
"We're excited to see so many educators, community and business leaders from all corners of the state answer the call to provide a high quality education to Louisiana students," said White. "The legislation gave us the ability to provide more public school choices to students in chronically failing schools across the state. As a result, we received a record number of applications."
The state recorded another major milestone this year when 14 new charters opened statewide bringing the total number operating in Louisiana to 104. During the 2011-2012 school year, more than 44,000 students attended 98 charter schools in Louisiana. From 2010 to 2011, charter schools outpaced all schools in Louisiana for gains in performance scores, gaining an average of 6 points compared to the 2 point gain of all schools.
The state annually accepts applications from various organizations to operate charter schools, but for the first time this year, applicants could apply directly to BESE to open new charter schools. The landmark Act 2 legislation now allows potential charter operators to apply to BESE if their school district received a letter grade of "D" or "F." As a result, BESE received 26 applications this year for new charter schools compared to five applications last year. Among the applicants are Louisiana charter groups seeking to expand to other areas of the state including ReNew Schools, Crescent City Schools, Arise Academy, New Orleans College Preparatory Academies, and Spirit of Excellence.
This year's charter application process, called the 2012 Call for Quality Schools, focused specifically on high priority and high need areas of the state including Baton Rouge, northwest Louisiana, Jefferson Parish, New Orleans, central Louisiana and north Louisiana. Of the 26 applications received, 85 percent were from "D" or "F" school districts and 81 percent were from areas of high priority in the state.
"We were thrilled with the number of applications we received and are excited to be able to offer even more educational options for Louisiana students," BESE President Penny Dastugue said. "Because of the Board's longstanding rigorous charter application evaluation process and track record of strong charter authorizing, Louisiana students have gained access to new public schools - some of which exceed the state average in terms of academic growth. We look forward to accelerating this growth through this new process which seeks to locate quality school operators to serve communities with the biggest educational needs."
To ensure consistency and transparency for charter school applicants, BESE today approved a common charter application that will be used by the state and local districts and an evaluation timeline for locally authorized charter schools, both requirements of Act 2. The Department used the 2012 Call for Quality Schools application, combined with feedback from district superintendents, to develop a common charter application.
In addition, BESE adopted a timeline for the approval of charter schools that will be effective January 1, 2013. However, for the current approval period, the 2012 timeline for locally authorized charter schools (Type 1 & 3 charter schools) opens the application process on September 10 with applications due October 19. Districts will announce charter approvals by January 31, 2013. A charter organization must apply to the local district for a Type 1 or 3 charter school, and be denied, before applying to BESE as a Type 2 charter school, unless the district is labeled "D" or "F" in which case they may apply directly to BESE.
"Charter schools are an integral part of Louisiana's plan to offer every child access to a quality education," said White. "If approved, these new schools could give thousands of students additional options in their education that they otherwise wouldn't have."
About Louisiana Believes
Louisiana is implementing bold reforms to transform education, an initiative called Louisiana Believes. Louisiana Believes is based on three fundamental beliefs - a belief that all students can learn, a belief that empowering teachers and school leaders will unleash the learning potential of students, and a belief that families know better than government what is the best pathway to success for their students. These core values are the foundation of policies to ensure each student, in every grade, year after year, remain on track to succeed in college and professional careers.
About Charter Schools
Charter schools are another school choice option for Louisiana families. They are publicly funded, do not charge tuition, and require students to take state assessments each year. Charters have open enrollment policies, and a school's enrollment must reflect the at-risk population where a school is located. Charters are independently operated, however, which frees schools from overly-burdensome regulations. A charter school's enrollment must reflect the at-risk population where the school is located.