The expansion of charter schools in Lafayette has been controversial. In 2013, central office leadership and Lafayette’s business lobby were advocates for the creation of private, for-profit charter schools in the parish. Most vocal was our Superintendent who advocated their expansion as a fix to overcrowding – not as a progressive alternative to neighborhoods in need. Our school board echoed a community concern that the for-profit model was ultimately an inefficient use of tax dollars.
Now, in 2014, because of the Department of Education’s advocacy of for-profit charter expansion, LPSS has dutifully advanced the movement. When a charter company looks to the Lafayette Parish directive for the application process they see this paragraph on the LPSS website:
“The Lafayette Parish School system has a growing sense of urgency to expand the education options for its students. In our urgency there is a preparedness to restructure existing options and to create new options for students and families. With that being said, Lafayette Parish School System is seeking high-quality school operators in an attempt to increase the number of educational options for our students”
This statement, which reads like an LPSS policy statement, is in fact not. It is doubtful that the school board, which is legally charged with making public policy, was even consulted in the crafting of this application call. How does the school board envision the proliferation of schools in Lafayette parish, chartered or public? The answer to this question falls squarely on the shoulders of the Lafayette Parish School Board.
Consider this: LPSS Superintendent, Dr. Pat Cooper, has stated publically that we do not need any new charter schools this year. Our school board has indicated they are not currently interested in the for-profit charter model. Despite this global agreement, the Lafayette taxpayer has to pay for a third party review of Aleashia Clarkston’s application for a Kingdom Builder Community Corporation school. Is this legal? And is it a responsible, meaningful approach to local public education progress on the part of the LDOE? It is neither legal nor responsible.
Section 81 of Act 1 outlines the general powers of school boards in Louisiana. Re-enacted is item 81.2 “Each local public school board shall determine the number of schools to be opened, the location of school houses, and the number of teachers and other school personnel to be employed…” Given this clear statement of the power of the Lafayette Parish School Board to determine the number of public schools in Lafayette Parish, it is illegal for BESE to override on appeal the 5 charter schools whose applications were denied overwhelmingly by our school board. BESE is overstepping its authority.
Furthermore, the Department of Education has systematically corrupted the execution of Act 1 by requiring school systems across the state to make publically available the application process for chartering schools in their districts – effectively forcing them to consider and spend money on the review of any application submitted to them. This is an expense that Lafayette Parish must assume – $7,500 per application for a required third-party review. The question remains, why should a school board have to assume the time and expense of a charter school application process if or when they deem unnecessary additional schools in the parish? The answer: Act 1 says they don’t have to.
The Lafayette Parish School Board is overdue in drafting and executing a charter school policy. Act 1 has reenacted a long held statute that it is the role of the board to determine the number of public schools in its district. A sound statement of charter school policy in Lafayette Parish is necessary to prevent an unnecessary debate and expense to review applications for schools our system deems either unnecessary or unsolicited.