The Louisiana Supreme Court may have ruled that Governor Bobby Jindal and the Legislature cannot fund the state’s voucher program with the same “minimum foundation” constitutionally reserved for public schools, but that doesn’t mean that Jindal has to scrap his effort. Just after the 6–1 decision Tuesday, Jindal pledged to keep the program alive by funding it elsewhere in the budget. About 8,000 children had already been promised vouchers for next year.
But it’s hard to imagine how the program could grow much more than that if the governor has to find budgetary leftovers to fund it. Every year since 2008, the governor and lawmakers have had to scratch and claw for funds to bankroll the New Orleans voucher program, which was the precursor to the statewide voucher effort. In 2011, the New Orleans program got $9 million from the general budget, which amounted to less than $5,000 per student then.
By contrast, Louisiana’s K–12 public schools received $3.4 billion from the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) in 2011, which came to an average $8,763 per pupil.
And that helps explain why Jindal sought funding for the statewide voucher program through the MFP. The governor can’t fund reform adequately if he has to seek out dollars—and struggle annually with state lawmakers—that don’t go into the entitlement spending for school boards.
Moreover, he shouldn’t have to. Students receiving the Louisiana voucher have to take the same standardized tests as those administered at public schools,
When the Ortonville Montessori charter school outside of Flint, Michigan, offered to buy a vacant building from the Brandon school district for $100,000, district officials weighed whether it made more fiscal sense to take the money now or demolish the building as planned and avoid losing possibly more students—and more state funding per pupil—to the charter. Last week, the Brandon Board of Education opted for demolition.
It didn’t matter that the building has sat empty for years and that the district has tried unsuccessfully to sell it to other buyers. It didn’t want to sell to the Ortonville charter because, as Brandon superintendent Lori McMahon casually told a local reporter, “It would be competition for us.”
While extreme, the challenges facing Ortonville focus attention on the struggles for adequate facilities that still bedevil most charter schools. Now twenty years old, many charter schools still commonly rent or own building space that is much smaller than that occupied by their traditional public school peers or that lack kitchens, gymnasiums, libraries, or science and computer labs.
That’s the assessment of a survey of charters in ten states released last week by the Charter Schools Facilities Initiative, a joint project of the Colorado League of Charter Schools and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The Initiative has sought to highlight the persistent capital needs of charter schools and their inequitable treatment and has developed policy recommendations to provide long-range and systemic
NACSA is out with the fifth edition of its annual report on the state of charter authorizing.
I love this thing—great data on a critically important part of our field. If you’re interested in chartering, school-level accountability, or The Urban School System of the Future, you definitely want to check it out.
Almost a decade ago, NACSA produced the equivalent of industry standards—the stuff a high-quality authorizer ought to do. These relate to assessing charter applications, monitoring school performance, helping grow high-performers, revoking the charters of low-performers, etc.
This report assesses authorizers against what NACSA deems the 12 “essential practices” of the industry.
Overall, authorizers’ scores improved over last year’s, and large authorizers (those with 10+ schools) scored better than small ones.
Continuing a long-term trend, authorizers are increasingly picky shoppers—they approve far fewer applications than they did back in the day. The average approval rate is now 33 percent.
But many authorizers are still falling short on the back end of accountability: 34 percent of authorizers lack a clear, established policy to close underperforming schools.
Some of the report’s most interesting findings relate to the different types of authorizers (there are six kinds nowadays). The vast majority (more than 90 percent) are local school districts, but they generally authorize few schools apiece; their portfolios combine for only 53 percent of all charters.
Districts score lower than non-district authorizers overall, and their policies are far less friendly to replication than non-district authorizers,
In my recent policy brief arguing for a reboot of charter school governance, I said that states need to create the right policy environment to ensure that management companies aren’t acting as puppeteers determining all the moves of a charter school and controlling the governing boards that ought to be in charge. When boards are mere rubber stamps, questions about accountability, incentives, and conflicts of interest are sure to follow (look at the calamity that has befallen the American Indian Model charter schools in California to see how an ineffectual and subservient board can crash even the highest flying charter).
But as my colleague Kathryn Mullen Upton pointed out yesterday, there’s plenty of blame to go around when problems like this surface. Charter boards that agree to arrangements that effectively make them subordinate to managers and vendors are as much at fault, said Upton, who oversees the Fordham Foundation’s charter authorizing operations in Ohio. Moreover, authorizers that grant a charter without even looking at the management agreement bear responsibility, too.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has recommended policies that explicitly assert the independence of the boards that ordinarily hold the charter and ultimately answer to the public. These include performance contracts that not only show how a board will assess a vendor’s performance but will terminate the contract if necessary. And there ought to be laws, just as in Florida, that explain
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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