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Despite charter school success, ignorant elites still resist

Lost in the disappointment of trying to fulfill another mid-year budget shortfall in Louisiana was good news about progress in Louisiana’s education – but coupled with another reminder about how the upcoming changeover in Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with cooperation from the Legislature still is necessary to combat the revanchist attitudes present in the state’s education establishment.

Late last year, the state had to address yet another shortfall in revenues and higher expenses when it took its annual look at how the budget matched to reality. The Constitution requires this review and corrective action in spending cuts to comport to its balanced budget imperative. As has become typical in the past several years, education expenditures were more than budgeted because enrollments in public schools appeared higher than predicted months ago.

But, interestingly, perhaps public schools attracting more students away from private schools caused the underestimation, as one of the members of the panel responsible for reviewing actual vs. budgeted numbers suggested, with the presence of better-performing charter schools the cause.
The numbers may bear this out: from the February, 2011 to October, 2011 estimates, as a whole public school enrollment in the state (excluding special schools) increased from 658,347 to 665,390, or 1.07 percent, while charter school enrollments went from 38,216 to 42,766, an increase of 12.17 percent, even though the number of charter schools remained the same at 97.

Data on private school enrollments are published, district-by-district, only months after the fact so there are none to compare at this point, but it seems unlikely that the large growth in charter school attendance has come entirely at the expense of traditional schools, whose rate of increase  correlates to the state’s natural population growth in the child age cohort. These money woes then represent the product of Louisiana’s success in restoring families’ confidence in the ability of public schools to deliver quality education through escalating use of charter schools.

Unfortunately, way too many policy-makers put special interests that benefit from the historically underserving regime – teachers’ unions, education administrators, school boards, and ideologue politicians – ahead of children’s quality education and oppose the very idea of charter schools, often displaying shocking ignorance in the process. One such recent example came from the City of Baker’s School Board when they turned down an applicant to run a school to address failing schools in primary education. The district itself is performing so poorly that the state put it on its “academic watch” list and it ranked second lowest in the state

Yet when the time came for discussion and the vote, most board members framed the decision along the lines of how the district would lose control of the money that would be allocated to such a school – if they even had the faintest idea of what the issue was about. Board member Elaine Davis stupidly said, “I was elected to support public education,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that charter schools are public schools, with almost all in the state run by a university of nonprofit agency. When the only board member who voted for allowing the chartering, Doris Alexander, pointed out that things needed to be changed because quality education was “not happening” and “it would be good for our students to have a choice,” Board President Dana Carpenter replied, “It makes me cringe when board members say things like that when we have principals and teachers in attendance,” showing her true allegiances.

Fortunately state law allows BESE to overrule these decisions – and it is indicative that nearly every school that has gotten chartered in the state has had to go this route, with almost all rejected initially at the district level (BESE itself reject typically more than half of appellants as well). It’s this kind of resistance, exemplified by the attitudes displayed by the majority of the Baker board, which has held back educational achievement in Louisiana. It also serves as an object lesson for the entering BESE members and new Legislature that they need to continue supporting reform measures such as increasing availability of charter alternatives to allow progression to educational achievement far removed from the acquiescence to mediocrity, or worse, of the past.

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