Mike Hasten, a state beat writer for Gannett, has a piece in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser this morning that is a ray of sunshine for public education in these dark days. In a success for advocates of public education—and PPEL which mounted a campaign of grassroots lobbying from Lafayette—House Bill 703 was successfully voted out of committee. The bill would limit the power of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to impose charter schools on local school systems that maintain an A, B, or C ranking using the state’s own system. The 8-7 vote was one of the few victories that proponents of local control have had in the session to date and surprised the overconfident advocates of state-mandated charters:
“The vote surprised opponents, including Stafford Palmieri of the governor’s office, the Council for a Better Louisiana and representatives of the Charter School Association, who had successfully gotten the committee to shoot down other bills seeking to limit the creation of charter schools.”
Key to this win was that for perhaps the first time charter school proponents were faced with actually having to deal with the real consequences of the state mandates for successful local schools systems:
Edwards said…”When a charter school opens up, local dollars flow to that school, as well as state dollars” … Answering an argument that schools receive funding for the students who remain, he pointed out that charters draw a few students from numerous classes but schools still have to pay the same for teachers, school maintenance and other costs for the ones that remain.
The most salient real-word example of a school system harmed by was Lafayette’s. PPEL member Kathleen Espinoza who journeyed down to the capital to speak before the committee is extensively quoted in the article:
Lafayette Parish’s situation was a main focus of the argument for the bill.
Kathleen Espinoza, the parent of public school students and representative of Power of Education Lafayette, said last fall the Lafayette Parish School Board voted 6-2 against creating another charter school. At the time, Lafayette schools had an overall B rating.
The charter founders then went to BESE and got approval 9-2.
“That resulted in a state takeover of five schools,” she said, and “diverts millions of tax dollars of the citizens of Lafayette to for-profit management companies in Florida and Michigan.”
Espinoza said the school board estimates it will have a $7 million shortfall because of the charter.
“That’s $7 million in funds lost that will now require cuts across our system, a system ranked successful by your own accountability system,” she said.
“I know of no other free-market scenario where the new competitor comes in and demands that all of its operating costs be paid by the existing competitor,” Espinoza said. “With a heavy heart, I am beginning to believe the Department of Education doesn’t want the traditional public schools in my parish to succeed and is systematically manipulating its power to engineer the exchange of public capital into the corporate realm.”
To make things worse, she said, the LPSB is being forced to negotiate with another charter provider and if it rejects the application, she’s certain BESE will approve it.
She asked the committee, “Do you favor local autonomy or do you favor the rubber stamp authority of a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that instead of nurturing our successes seems set on dismantling them in order to advance a political agenda?”
The bill now goes to the House floor for debate.
Kudos to Kathleen!
And make no mistake about it: Lafayette is emerging as a hotbed of opposition to the dismantling of public education. That is a direct result of the uncomfortable fact that the damage being inflicted on Lafayette’s successful school system gives lie to the claim that only weak systems are being targeted. In truth, every public school system in the state is under attack; Lafayette’s travails simply make that undeniable.
Kudo’s as well to the regional representative Dee Richard from Thibodaux who backed Lafayette’s appeal.
Brickbats and hisses to Nancy Landry of Lafayette whose loyalties seem to follow from a particular political agenda instead of the community she represents.