Charters. Choice. Change: Celebrating Charter School Week in May
By Caroline Roemer Shirley, Director, LAPCS
Louisiana now offers over 117 charter schools in 19 out of 64 parishes, hosting nearly 60,000 children or about 10 percent of total public school enrollment. One of these 19 parishes, Orleans, has the greatest percentage of public school children enrolled in charter schools in the nation. So as the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools invites the state to join it May 4 to 10 in celebrating National Charter School Week, I encourage public school parents and school advocates to know three things that make the movement unique in the state.
Those three unique characteristics are choice, autonomy and accountability. Choice means every parent should be able to choose the best school for their child, just as every principal and teacher should be able to choose to work there. Autonomy means that school’s leadership team, led by its principal, should be responsible for student learning in that building, not a central office. And accountability means schools that continually fail to meet high academic standards should be closed, no excuses.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says Louisiana has the third strongest charter school laws in the nation. It is because we have taken legal steps to promote academic independence in charters, equitable distribution of funding and facilities between traditional and charter schools, and no caps on charter school growth that this movement is growing and meeting our three criteria.
But much remains to be done.
Per pupil spending in Louisiana is still below the national median. Our students still significantly underperform in math, science and reading skills when compared to national averages.
The good news is that charter schools are out-performing their traditional counterparts in Louisiana. For example, in just seven years, Orleans Parish has reduced its number of failing public schools from 66 out of 151 schools before Hurricane Katrina to only nine out of 112 today. Recently, the U.S. News and World Report issued its top 2000 high schools in the nation, and of the three schools identified from Louisiana, two were charters from Orleans. Recent stats from the Louisiana Department of Education also confirm the academic success of our state’s charters.
The Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools works across the state to inform parents that charter schools are indeed free, public schools that are funded by tax dollars. Just like traditional public schools, charter schools can never charge tuition to students or parents. But you are the key to making charters work.
So during Charter School Week, I hope you would explore programs at LAPCS which help prepare community boards apply for charter school designation from their local school board or the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. We also train boards once a charter is approved.
You own the key to improving your local school.
Charter schools are started by non-profit boards of community leaders like you who organized to make a change in the public school options available to their children by requiring the school’s leadership team to meet academic standards on an annual basis or face closure.
Charters require the students to learn and the adults in the building teach. That is what charters do: They cut through the red tape to reach academic success.
I encourage every Louisiana citizen to make sure you are contributing to Louisiana’s changing world of public education and actually making it better. Join the charter movement.
To learn more about National Charter Schools visit the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website at www.publiccharters.org. To learn more about Louisiana’s charter school movement, contact LAPCS at www.lacharterschools.org or call 504-274-3651.
Choice. Charters. Change. It’s a lot to celebrate.