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Baton Rouge Breakaway District One Step Closer to Reality

A bill that would allow the creation of a new school district in the East Baton Rouge Parish passed the Louisiana House of Representatives earlier today, The Times-Picayune reports. The bill had passed the state's Senate earlier this month.

The measure that passed today—Senate Bill 199—does not by itself create a new district. Another bill creating a constitutional amendment that allows the new district to be funded still needs to pass the House, and then voters in the state of Louisiana need to approve that amendment.

It seems like a lot of hurdles, but three districts have already broken away from the East Baton Rouge Parish. Mack "Bodi" White, Jr., the senator who wrote Senate Bill 199, was also instrumental in creating one of those other new school districts.

As I wrote in a story for last week's edition of Education Week, the East Baton Rouge school district is fighting to both prevent this newest breakaway and an anticipated transfer of several of its schools to the state-run Recovery School District. There's a lot more context about the financial and political concerns at stake with the creation of the new breakaway district (and a nifty graphic) in that article, and some background about the concerns of both the RSD and the chronically low-performing East Baton Rouge district.

The superintendent in Baton Rouge has submitted plans that involve relocating a gifted program to a low-performing school. That move set off a public kerfuffle between East Baton Rouge superintendent Bernard Taylor and state superintendent John White, who was enraged by what he described as a blatant manipulation of the state's accountability system. Taylor, who is in his first year as superintendent, says he believes the district can improve the schools in question—and that the state-run district hasn't done a better job with the schools it does control. (All of the RSD schools in Baton Rouge are ranked F by the state of Louisiana.)

In order to improve the state's track record and bring better schools to Baton Rouge, a new group called New Schools for Baton Rouge, which spun off of the New Schools for New Orleans charter school support group, has been recruiting higher-quality charter operators all year, according to Chris Meyer, the founder and chief executive officer at New Schools for Baton Rouge. Many of those charter operators will step into schools that are now directly run by the state.

The group seems to be having success: Twenty-two groups have applied to launch charters in the district, according to the Advocate.

Meyer told me to keep an eye on Baton Rouge, which he says could be the new New Orleans in terms of its ability to attract young talent and charter operators to the city. He said the breakaway districts and the potential of more schools being run by the RSD may even make it likely that the district could be dramatically restructured within the next few years. The breakaway bill and the state's reaction to Taylor's redistricting plan are both certainly worth watching.

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