Voting Rights: PROTECT THE LOCAL democratic CONTROL OF OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In order to fulfill our responsibility to provide all children regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or ability with a quality education, we must be able to elect meaningful representation to a local board that oversees a unified public school system. Our ability to do so has been significantly eroded if not essentially eliminated by laws and policies enacted at the state level. We must protect our public schools from the harmful effects of these laws while we simultaneously advocate for the repeal or amendment of the laws in question.
Unlike traditional public schools, the charter schools currently sanctioned by the state are governed by boards whose members are appointed rather than elected. Consequently, when a school is chartered the voters in the school’s community are deprived of their ability to elect meaningful representation to the school’s board. In other words, community members are effectively deprived of their voting rights.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: A BEAUTIFUL IDEA HIJACKED BY FINANCIAL INTERESTS
Please know that I agree the original concept of charter schools was a beautiful idea: parents and teachers would collaborate in order to design curriculum that would more effectively meet the needs of students. And if it worked, they’d take the new approach back to the administration and the school system could implement it in other schools.
But that’s not what we have now and even the charter schools which are trying to fulfill that original ideal vision are threatened by the state laws and policies that privilege the national and multinational corporate charter chains.
If you are unfamiliar with the charter model, here’s a quick explanation for how it works. The school is designated as a non-profit, but it is required by law to hire a charter management organization. More often than not, the charter management organization is for-profit, and it often has affiliated companies which it enters into business agreements with. These business agreements are not subject to public oversight as they would be if they were with a non-profit or a public institution.
The most insidious aspect of these corporate charter chains is their dismantling of voting rights. They do this by diverting the power of our elected board to that of the non-profit board, whose members are appointed not elected and who serve at the pleasure of the charter management organizations.
This diversion of power allows the corporate charter chains to then divert our tax dollars out of our community and to national and multinational corporations. Real estate agreements—capital lease agreements, specifically—are one of the most troubling ways this is happening.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
CHANGE CURRENT LAWS THAT GIVE THE STATE BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION FINAL AUTHORITY
Currently if a charter school is denied a charter application by our local board, the charter school officials are allowed to apply for a charter from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Too often BESE overrides the decision of the local school board and approves the application. The laws allowing this must be changed! Our local elected representatives cannot plan wisely for the future if BESE is continually creating uncertainty in enrollment projections and budget allocations.
CHANGE THE FUNDAMENTALLY-FLAWED ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM THAT PRIVILEGES PRIVATIZATION AND ELIMINATES A COMMUNITY’S VOTING RIGHTS
Our state relies primarily if not solely on standardized test scores when calculating school and district performance scores. And yet, standardized tests have a long history of being racially and culturally discriminatory, and student scores generally correspond with parents' education background and family income level.
Even the district performance scores in Louisiana reveal a clear correlation between the concentration of poverty in individual districts and the scores assigned to each district. School districts with a high percentage of students living in poverty typically garner low district performance scores while districts with a low percentage of students living in poverty garner high district performance scores. The correlation strongly suggests the standardized test scores reveal less about the quality of the education being offered than they do about the demographics of a school or district.
In order to reveal the quality of the education within schools, it would be more effective to use multiple measures to assess our schools and school districts. Instead, state law currently allows BESE to seize and charter public schools deemed failing by its use of the inherently discriminatory school and district performance scores.
PROHIBIT OR SEVERELY LIMIT THE CREATION OF NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS
In recent years, statements calling for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools have been issued by the National Education Association (NEA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Black Lives Matter. If the laws at the state level can be changed to give our local school board final authority, then we should place a moratorium on the creation of all new charter schools. Otherwise, we should at least severely limit the approval of new applications.
Charter schools approved by the local boards are Type 1 charter schools. Charter proponents argue Type 1 charter schools provide parents with more choices. But it’s not necessary to create charter schools to provide additional programs. The East Baton Rouge Parish School System has created a variety of specialized programs in order to meet the needs of its students and unlike the charter school model, it does not entail the elimination of the community’s voting rights by diverting the power of the elected board to that of a charter school board whose members are beholden to a private charter management organization.
In addition, a traditional public school system provides parents and students other protections not guaranteed by the charter school law. Unlike our traditional public school system, charter schools are not required to hire certified teachers or guarantee students with disciplinary referrals due process when faced with suspension or expulsion. Our traditional public school system is required by law to provide services to children with disabilities. While charter schools are supposed to do so as well, there is ample evidence that many avoid this responsibility by “counseling out” students in need of special services. Charter schools are responsible only for the children in their school. A traditional public school system is responsible for all the children in the community. It cannot “counsel out” a student to avoid providing him or her with a free and appropriate public education.
If we are unable to enact a moratorium on charter schools, our local school board should only approve Type 1 charter schools when they fulfill the original mission of providing at-risk youth with an innovative program, protect the teaching profession, abide by the transparency requirements of public institutions, and do not undermine the financial stability of the public school system.
OPPOSE THE CREATION OF A “PORTFOLIO OFFICE”
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and other pro-charter groups are calling for the East Baton Rouge School System to create a “portfolio office” and hire an executive director to oversee the charter schools that operate in East Baton Rouge Parish. There are few other details about this proposal, but it does not appear the executive director would be accountable to a board elected by voters, and it would essentially create a separate school system. There is no justification for returning to a separate and unequal system in regards to our public schools.