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Louisiana Senate Approves Bill to Return New Orleans' Schools to Local Control

A Louisiana Senate bill unanimously approved on Wednesday aims to return schools in the Recovery School District to the local school board by no later than 2019.

The bill passed 36-0 and now has to be considered by the House of Representatives.  

The measure came just a day after the Cowen Institute For Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University released its new poll of voter perceptions of public education in New Orleans  that showed 38 percent of respondents would like the schools under the Recovery School District to return to the Orleans Parish School Board by 2018. Thirteen percent of respondents said the return should be after 2018, while 32 percent wanted to maintain the current system.

The majority of respondents—81 percent—said that if charters that now fall under RSD governance were required to return to the OPSB, then a transition plan should be created before the schools shift to local control.

Responses were split on whether the Orleans Parish School Board could effectively manage all of the public schools in the city, with 41 percent saying the local panel would be able to do so, while 35 percent said it can't.

The Orleans Parish School Board had been plagued by governance issues, but things have changed recently. It spent two years without a permanent superintendent before hiring Henderson Lewis in 2015.  Last year was also the first year that any charter school opted to shift from the RSD to Orleans Parish. 

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Louisiana expanded the Recovery School District, which was created in 2003. The RSD eventually took over the vast majority of schools in the city.

(You can see Education Week's package on the evolution of public education in New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina.)

Today, the Recovery School District oversees 52 schools in New Orleans, all of them charter schools. The Orleans Parish School Board oversees six direct-run schools and 18 charter schools.

The new legislation was sponsored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat from New Orleans, and it calls for the superintendents of both districts to collaborate, the Associated Press reported.

While the target date for the transfer is 2018, the bill would allow the transition to be longer if complications arise. However, the transition should be completed no later than July 1, 2019, according to the AP.

The bill would maintain the common enrollment process for all of the city's schools. While schools would be placed in geographic zones, priority would be given to no more than half the students who live nearby. Decisions about charter authorizing would be made by the superintendent; however, the Orleans Parish School Board could set aside those decisions with a two-thirds vote, the AP said. 

Danielle Dreilinger of NOLA.com noted that even if the senate bill eventually becomes law, the state will still be running schools in the city.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recently approved five charter schools, which will remain under state jurisdiction, and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is also a state school, she wrote.  

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