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Turnaround Trends: More States Consider Creating Their Own School Districts

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More states are getting into the school turnaround business by setting up their own districts.

A brief released today from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute details the trend as well as policy and management recommendations based on the experiences of established state-run turnaround districts.

Such entities are set up to take over and turn around failing schools through a variety of measures, including handing the schools over to charter operators. Called 'achievement', 'recovery' or 'opportunity' school districts, they are so far operational in three states: Louisiana, Tennessee, and Michigan.

The idea was pioneered largely by Louisiana's Recovery School District, which now oversees many of the schools—most of them independent charters—in the city of New Orleans.

A small but growing number of other states have similar-styled turnaround districts in the works.

Nevada lawmakers approved a bill to create an achievement school district in May.

Most legislators in Georgia have supported creating such an entity in that state, approving a bill that outlines an operating structure for a proposed "opportunity school district." But to make a state-run turnaround district a reality, Georgia voters will have to approve an amendment to the state constitution.

Although an initiative to create a state-run turnaround district is working its way through the Pennsylvania legislature, similar proposals in Arkansas and Texas both failed this spring.

Mississippi, meanwhile, has created a taskforce to study the establishment of an achievement school district.

Finally, while Virginia lawmakers approved an achievement school district in 2013, a judge shortly thereafter ruled it unconstitutional.

That last example leads to one of nine policy recommendations in the Fordham brief: "call your lawyer ... a close reading of the state constitution is essential homework" especially in 'local-control' states such as Virginia and Georgia, as well as Florida and Colorado.

The brief also makes several recommendations relating to the management of a state-run turnaround district, including creating a portfolio of operators to run schools and including affected communities in all parts of the operation from crafting legislation to reviewing charter operators.

To read the full brief written by Nelson Smith, a senior adviser to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, click here.

Related stories:

Charter Operators Pull Back From Memphis Turnaround Effort

School Takeover Threat Spurs Compromise Between LA District, Parents

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