Turnaround Trends: More States Consider Creating Their Own School Districts
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.
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.
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