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SB 432 and the Dissolving of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD)

May 12, 2016

On May 11, 2016, SB 432 passed the Louisiana legislature and is headed to Governor John Bel Edwards’ desk for his signature.

SB 432 effectively dissolves Louisiana’s state-run Recovery School District (RSD) by mandating that by July 01, 2018, every school transferred to RSD because it was designated a “failing school” be returned to the jurisdiction of the school board from whence it came.

dissolving 2

Of course, almost every school under state control has been converted to a charter school; such RSD charters are known as Type 5 charters. According to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) website, RSD has 64 Type 5 charters. SB 432 stipulates that upon return to a local board, each Type 5 charter be converted to a Type 3B charter (which means it was once under the auspices of RSD but is now returned to a local board).

Prior to SB 432, only one such school exists.

In a pretty good article on the subject, the May 10, 2016, New York Times credits SB 432 as being “driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, state superintendent John White”:

To Mr. White, the move to local control is not the retreat it may seem. He argues that it will make New Orleans a new model, radically redefining the role of central school boards just as many urban school districts are shifting increasingly large portions of their students to independently run but publicly funded charter schools.

“The mission was to recover the schools, not to maintain a group of white bureaucrats not from New Orleans,” said Mr. White, 41, an alumnus of the elite St. Albans School in Washington and the University of Virginia. “The mission has to be completed, and you can’t call it completed when the central offices aren’t serving all the schools.”

The chief shift will be in sending the RSD-NO (Recovery School District-New Orleans) schools back to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). The fact that White supports this makes sense. RSD-NO has nowhere to go. It is ten years old. It has not panned out as the revolution in state-controlled schools that it has been marketed to be. No RSD-NO school is graded as an A. Few are Bs. And on the 2015 high school report cards, the RSD-NO average composite ACT was 15.7– which White tried to fashion into a 16.6.

So, transferring poorly-faring RSD-NO schools back to higher-performing OPSB rids White of any more separate (and embarrassing) RSD-NO calculations. Those former RSD-NO charters will immediately improve once there is only a single New Orleans school performance score, or a single ACT composite score.

By returning RSD-NO schools to OPSB, RSD-NO hasn’t failed, and White hasn’t failed. He’s just doing what was always intended– returning those schools. It’s perfect, and rest assured he will sell it as a success, and he will benefit as selling himself as the guy who fulfilled the mission of school “recovery” in New Orleans.

However, given the relatively smooth journey that SB 432 has had as it traveled through the Louisiana legislature, it is highly likely that there have been some behind-the-scenes agreements made to move this bill along.

I know that the Waltons are focusing their efforts on trying to drum up some local support for charters. I know also that Walton-funded Howard Fuller has been working with New Orleans activists to try to foster grass roots support for New Orleans school choice– and that Fuller was trying to figure out how to get the Waltons to invest in a grass roots effort that emphasizes community desires more than it does meeting some school choice bulls eye. And I know that White has met with the Waltons and that the Waltons dropped a chunk of change on getting the “right” folks elected to the state board in November 2015. So, are the Waltons involved in delivering Louisiana’s  state-run charters back to local board control? I do not know for sure, but I would be surprised with so many Walton footprints on Louisiana education if at least some of the tracks I am seeing were not made by Walton (or Walton-funded) shoes.

White’s words in the New York Times article read like a Walton footprint for the Walton push for a grass roots investment in New Orleans charters:

At some point, you’re going to need to rely on the will of the people locally,” [White] added.

I would not be surprised if there were other shoes involved, as well. We’ll let that be for now.

Onward to SB 432.

Below are some pertinent details from the bill. (I apologize if the info below is a bumpy read. The bill is 12 pages, and I tried to condense important details into a manageable post. I also link to and sometimes quote other legislation/policy referenced in SB 432.)

SB 432 stipulates that the conversion from Type 5 to Type 3B shall be “in accordance with the provisions of R.S. 17:3973(2)(b)(vii),” which reads as follows (Note: R.S. 17:10.5 and 10.7 referenced below mean that the school was tagged as “failing” based on test scores):

Type 3B, which means a former Type 5 charter school transferred from the Recovery School District to the administration and management of the transferring local school system pursuant to R.S. 17:10.5 or 10.7 and rules adopted by the state board.  The  local school board shall permit a Type 3B charter school to remain in the facility in which it was located at the time of transfer or shall provide the Type 3B charter school with another facility for use.  Pursuant to rules and regulations adopted by the state board, the state board may require a Type 3B charter school to participate in unified processes common to other public schools located in the same parish or school district boundaries that are critical to providing equity and access to students and families, such as processes for student enrollment, expulsion, and transportation.

The exception in SB 432 to the July 01, 2018, deadline appears to be RSD schools currently under construction. They get to stay “until construction is substantially complete.”

Property belonging to the local districts from whence schools originated returns to local districts without fiscal obligation to the state for upkeep during the time the school was under RSD jurisdiction.

Beginning July 01, 2017, local districts need to have in place a plan to fund any charter schools located in their “geographic boundaries” using Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) funds– including the as-of-yet non-existent Type 1B charters– those authorized by “a local charter authorizer” that is not the local board. Thus, for Type 1B, an outside entity gets to tell a district, “You’re going to have a new school because we approved it.” This Type 1B is currently part of Louisiana law but has not been acted on as of yet.

Local revenues approved by voters after September 01, 2016, for parish-wide functions may be used to fund any of the local board schools.

Local school districts may also adopt policies “requiring enrollment of additional or fewer students throughout the school year as necessary. The policy may consider factors including past trends in enrollment and school performance.”

Local superintendents are allowed to cap the percentage of students served by a single charter operator so as to guarantee “a diverse system of schools led by multiple high quality operators.”

If local superintendents are concerned about how a charter is being run, the superintendent can present a case for charter revocation to the local board. If the local board does not reject the superintendent’s recommendation by two-thirds vote, then the superintendent may take action based upon the recommendation. The board vote must occur by the next board meeting after the meeting in which the superintendent presents the recommendation.

As for preserving that “charter autonomy”:

Unless mutually agreed to by both the charter school’s governing authority and the local school board pursuant to a duly authorized resolution adopted by each governing entity, the local school board shall not impede the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction in the areas of school programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and texts, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring and firing of personnel, employee performance management and evaluation, terms and conditions of employment, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement,  collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.

Upon conversion from Type 5 to Type 3B, the charter may seek local board approval to act as its own local education agency (LEA). Here is how that works (see page 14 of this Title 28 doc:

At the time of transfer, the type 3B charter school shall have the option to remain its own local educational agency or have the local school system serve as the charter school’s local education agency. The charter school may subsequently change its LEA status, subject to approval by the local school board and LDE.

A type 3B charter school acting as its own local education agency shall comply with the same financial, programmatic, and reporting requirements applicable to other charter school LEAs.

The state superintendent may rescind the local education agency status of a type 3B charter school should the charter school fail to meet these requirements, pursuant to a process outlined in the annual financial risk assessment administered by the department. Upon rescission, the local school board shall serve as the LEA for the type 3B charter school as long as the local school board continues to authorize the charter school.

Similar procedure is repeated in SB 432:

The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall promulgate rules in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act regarding a charter school acting as its own local education agency, pursuant to R.S. 17:10.7.1. Such rules shall:

(1) Delineate the financial and programmatic obligations of the charter school as related to the receipt of public funds.

(2) Authorize the state superintendent of education to rescind a charter school’s authority to act as its own local education agency if the school fails to meet the financial and programmatic obligations established by the board.

Some noteworthy observations: Given that the Title 28 definition of LEA is equal in standing with a local school board (see page 2), it seems that in granting a Type 3B charter LEA status, a local education agency might use LEA status to rid itself of charters with poor letter grades/performance scores. (If the charter is its own LEA, then the local school board can relieve itself of factoring in “failing” Type 3B charters in its own district performance.) However, it is the Type 3B charter that must petition the local school board for such status, and the state must also approve of the Type 3B charter’s LEA status. Also, for each Type 3B charter acting as its own LEA, the state will withhold one quarter of one percent of the fee charged to the Type 3B charter for its being monitored by the state (rather than monitored by the local school district).

In addition, if the Type 3B charter loses its LEA status, or if the local school board does not renew the charter for a Type 3B charter not operating as its own LEA, then it is possible for that charter to be converted back into a traditional, district-run school.

Of course, conversion of “failed” Type 3B charters back into traditional public schools depends upon the degree of charter sympathy/preference on the local school board.

As for the process of transferring schools from RSD to a local board, the local superintendent and the RSD superintendent must convene an advisory committee comprised of a number of representatives, including those involved with charters and traditional schools. All meetings are subject to open meetings laws and must meet at least quarterly until all schools are returned. The local superintendent must first submit a plan by September 01, 2016. The local superintendent is to submit quarterly progress reports until June 01, 2018, to the local school board, the state board, RSD, LDOE, and the Louisiana house and senate education committees, with a final report due by August 01, 2018.

A local school board (majority vote) or the state board (majority vote) can postpone return of schools for fiscal reasons. The petition for postponement must be submitted by January 31, 2018, with final transfer of schools to occur no later than July 01, 2019.

The end of SB 432 includes this condition:

To the extent that the provisions of this Chapter conflict with the provisions of R.S. 17:10.7.1, the provisions of R.S. 17:10.7.1 shall prevail.

However, there is no R.S. 17:10.7.1. In other words, R.S. 17:10.7 (“School and district accountability; schools in districts in academic crisis; transfer to Recovery School District”) has no “.1.” Therefore, the condition makes no sense, and I assume there is a typo.

I also assume that Governor John Bel Edwards will sign this bill into law.

According to her words in the New York Times, SB 432 has RSD “mother” and former state board member Leslie Jacobs nervous:

“If this is not done well, we will go backwards as a city,” said Leslie Jacobs, a local insurance executive and philanthropist who as a member of the state board of education led the creation of the state district that took over the schools. “We cannot go backwards.”

After ten years, the RSD-NO composite ACT score as reported on the LDOE-issued, 2015 report cards is 15.7.

I wonder, for the test-centered reform that Jacobs promotes, where exactly is “backwards”?

(This two-minute Jacobs interview is condensed from a nine-minute interview with ABC. Local filmmaker Phoebe Ferguson created this abbreviated version.)

_____________________________________________________________

Coming June 24, 2016, from TC Press:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Stay tuned.

 

***

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

 

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