Charters, Not Your Average School

For years, Louisiana parents had only two choices when it came to their children’s education: the free public education provided by their local school district or a private school alternative which often came with a steep price tag. With a need for additional quality and affordable education options, a new and innovative type of school was formed – enter, the charter school.  

What’s a Charter School?

Unique in the fact that they are primarily autonomous, charters are individual schools run by a non-profit community board and are authorized by the local governing school board or the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).  

Where traditional public schools take a one-size-fits-all approach – with most major decisions coming from the governing school board – individual charter schools have the versatility to make decisions based on specific sets of student needs. While free to make decisions on curriculum offerings, staffing needs, and budgets; in Louisiana, charter schools exchange their independence for a higher set of accountability benchmarks.    

Why Choose a Charter?

There are three factors to consider when weighing the option of choosing a charter over a traditional school: 

  • Choice – Charter schools give parents the option to choose which school their child will attend instead of an assigned public school decided by the governing school board. Parents also have the choice to select a school based on their child’s strengths, weaknesses, or interests. For instance, some charters focus on strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) integration in many of the courses that are taught. 
  • Autonomy – Charter Schools have the advantage when it comes to making decisions based on the students enrolled or specific skills they want to teach. Like a CEO of a company, charter school principals have the power to examine best practices and initiate change relatively quickly to ensure funds and resources are used effectively. This method is also true when it comes to choosing curriculum to teach and programs to offer for disadvantaged or other special students.  
  • Accountability – Following strict standards set by the Louisiana Department of Education, charter schools undergo a review of academics, finances, and overall organizational performance. Factors included in the review are: enrollment, special education and at-risk student performance, discipline, health and safety practices, governance, fund balances, and debt to asset ratios. Charter schools that have consistently low performance scores are closed by the Department of Education at the end of their charter term, rather than the lengthier intervention process for traditional schools.   

What Charter Schools are Coming to Baton Rouge?

In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature removed a statewide cap on the number of charter schools. Since then, 150 charters are active in Louisiana with over 20 of them located in Baton Rouge. 

Organizations like New Schools for Baton Rouge have formed to recruit nationally-known high-performing schools to join the Baton Rouge community. In late January IDEA Public Schools broke ground on their newest campus, IDEA Innovation Academy and College Prep, which will be followed by the IDEA Cortana campus. When open in August of 2018, the Innovation campus will serve nearly 500 students in the Capital Region initially in grades K-2 and 6, adding two grade levels each year until K-12 are served.  

Another school on the horizon is BASIS Baton Rouge, which will be part of the Woman’s Hospital campus, offering high-quality education to students in grades K-4. BASIS Baton Rouge is a member of the BASIS Charter school system which is consistently ranked as one of the best schools in the United States.  

Both BASIS and IDEA are type 1 charter schools, which mean they were approved by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board to operate within and serve the students and families of the district. If you’d like to learn more about education in the Capital Region, take a look at our 2015 – 2016 Regional Education Report Card. The 2016-2017 Regional Education Report Card will be released in the upcoming months. 

Ethan Melancon

As the policy and research project manager, Ethan is the staff lead for education and workforce development focusing on cultivating the Capital Region’s talent through STEM learning and aligning workforce development systems to meet business needs.

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