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Louisiana Charter School Oversight is Flawed, Report Contends

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As the state of Louisiana has poured money into opening charter schools, it's failed to invest adequately in overseeing the publicly funded, but independently run, schools. That's according to a report released Tuesday by The Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools.

The report names three major problems with charter school financial oversight in Louisiana: It relies on self-reporting and whistleblowers; its auditing techniques are not properly designed; and the agencies tasked with keeping an eye on charters are understaffed. In terms of academic oversight, the state depends too much on data that is easily manipulated, and it defaults too quickly to shutting down failing schools rather than investing in their improvement, the report says.

The report recommends, among other actions, putting a moratorium on new charter schools until the state's oversight system is fixed. 

The Center for Popular Democracy is a national nonprofit social justice advocacy and research group, while its partner on the report, the Coalition for Community Schools, is a nonprofit based in the state. Here's more background on the two groups from Danielle Dreilinger of The Times-Picayune:

The Center for Popular Democracy's partners include the American Federation of Teachers, which has an uneasy relationship with charters, and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which studies charter school oversight. Kyle Serrette, the center's director of educational justice campaigns, said its parent members had children in charter and conventional public schools. ...

The Louisiana-based Coalition for Community Schools opposes charter schools outright and filed a civil rights complaint against the state Education Department in 2014. That complaint also included a demand to freeze chartering in New Orleans.

New Orleans is a bit of a lightning rod in the school choice world because it's become almost entirely populated by charter schools through a relatively new and rare type of school turnaround model. The state created its own district to take over failing schools from local school boards, which it started doing en masse in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina decimated in the city in 2005.

And even as some states look to mimic Louisiana's model, a bill to return the charter schools that are no longer failing to the original Orleans Parish School Board is making its way through the Louisiana state legislature.

But despite the concerns laid out in the Center for Popular Democracy report, a poll released the same day found that the majority of New Orleans residents polled think education in the Crescent City has actually improved since Hurricane Katrina. The Cowen Institute at Tulane University and The New Orleans Advocate commissioned the poll. 

Even though only 21 percent of respondents gave an A or B grade to New Orleans schools in general, 59 percent said that charter schools had improved public education in the city. That number climbed to 71 percent among parents with children in school. You can find more details on the survey from The Advocate here

Related stories:

Why NOLA Charters Aren't Returning to the Orleans Parish School Board

 Walton Foundation's Market-Based Ed. Initiatives Miss Mark, Report Says

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