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Will Restricting School Choice Help Louisiana?

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A number of bills seek to limit vouchers and charter schools

Although new to office, Governor John Bel Edwards clearly has different ideas about how to improve Louisiana education than former Governor Bobby Jindal. While Governor Jindal was committed to expanding school choice, Governor Edwards has made it clear that he would support measures that would restrict it.

So it is no surprise that a number of bills limiting Louisiana’s school vouchers and charter schools have been filed this session, including:

  • HB 98 by State Representative Patricia Smith “removes BESE’s authority to certify local charter authorizers, thus eliminating the possibility of local charter authorizers serving as chartering authorities and the possibility of the establishment of Type 1B charter schools.” SB 260 by State Senator Dan Morrish is similar.
  • HB 126 Representative Smith “limits kindergarten student eligibility for the voucher program; provides that only kindergarten students who would have attended a “D” or “F” school are eligible.” HB 550 by State Representative Patrick Jefferson and SB 361 by Senator Morrish are similar.
  • HB 137 Representative Smith “prohibits, for the 2016-2017 school year and thereafter, the state Dept. of Education from awarding first-time vouchers to students.”
  • HB 167 by Representative Smith “prohibits the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education from authorizing Type 2 and Type 5 charter schools in any fiscal year that the governor or the legislature reduces the minimum foundation program (MFP) appropriation.”
  • HB 168 by Representative Smith “subjects charter schools to the same State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) rules and regulations as traditional public schools with respect to employment eligibility requirements for teachers and other school employees.”
  • SB 147 by State Senator Ryan Gatti “provides for charter schools to pay a proportionate share of the local school district’s of Teachers’ Retirement System UAL payment.”
  • SB 149 by Senator Gatti “provides…the per pupil amount provided to a charter school shall be computed annually and shall be equal to fifty percent of the state portion and fifty percent of the local portion of the per pupil amount provided through the minimum foundation program formula for the school district in which the student resides or the virtual charter school is located, whichever is the lesser total amount.”
  • SB 198 by Senator Gatti “prohibits BESE from entering into a proposed charter if the proposed school would be located in a school system that, in either of its two last evaluations under the accountability system, received a letter grade of “A”, “B” or “C” and the school board that governs the local school system previously denied or placed conditions on the proposal.”

Before legislators approve any of these bills, they should remember that Louisiana’s school choice movement started in response to its failing traditional public schools.

The logic behind school choice is simple. When families can choose between schools, schools have to compete to attract students. This competition encourages innovation that can lead to overall better education models and learning environments.

Indeed, school choice has led to better learning facilities in Louisiana. Take the findings in The Health of the Charter School Movement: A State by State Analysis, a 2016 report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for example.

The report credits the Pelican State for its high percentage of special-focus charter schools and highlights that Louisiana’s charter schools had a higher growth in reading and math on average between 2007-2008 and 2010-2011 than its traditional public schools.

The report notes that a relatively high percentage of public school students are enrolled in charter schools, which the authors suggest indicates a high demand for innovative school options.

School choice success is also exemplified by the fact that more Louisiana students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses and succeeding on the ACT than ever before, Louisiana graduation rates are at an all-time high and, over the last five years, there has been a 16 percent increase in the number of Louisiana students entering college.

These achievements, and the achievements in other states with school choice, prove that expanding competition spurs the development of higher quality education programs. As Louisiana still has a long way to go if it wants its schools to be nationally competitive, legislation restricting school choice would be a step in the wrong direction.

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