Source: Bureau of Governmental Research, April 2016
In the current legislative session, state lawmakers filed several bills directed at reducing the state’s role in governing Orleans Parish public schools. Recently, the Senate unanimously approved a bill providing for the transfer of charter schools from the state Recovery School District (RSD) to the Orleans Parish School Board (School Board).1 This would reduce the role of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as a charter authorizer in New Orleans.2 These changes would depart significantly from the dual authorizer structure that has been an unsung hero in Orleans Parish public schools’ success story. Charter authorizing carries more significance than its name might suggest. Charter authorizers grant charters in the first instance, but then continue in an oversight and accountability role, enforcing charter contracts and performance standards. In essence, charter authorizers serve as charter school regulators. They must foster autonomy and accountability at the school level and support the system’s ability to deliver high-quality education. In a system of mostly charter schools, the quality of the authorizing function directly affects the system’s performance and its future growth. For that reason, legislators must approach the charter authorizing structure with care. As part of its ongoing reporting on public education issues, this report seeks to inform lawmakers and the public about the current structure and the potential risks that accompany a diminished role for BESE and the RSD in charter management. The report recommends ways to reduce those risks. To be clear, BGR is not currently taking a position on the issue of whether, when or to what extent RSD charter schools should be placed under School Board management. Instead, BGR seeks to ensure that, as lawmakers chart the course for Orleans Parish public schools, whether now or in future legislative sessions, they elevate the charter authorizing structure among the many issues that are essential to long-term charter school success.