Senate-passed charter school restriction approved by House committee

The Advocate

Reversing its earlier stance, a Louisiana House committee endorsed a bill Tuesday backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to eliminate one way charter schools can be launched.

The House Education Committee approved the bill 7-5. Senate Bill 260 next faces action on the House floor.

Like similar legislation that the same panel had rejected last month, SB260 removes the option for state-approved local groups to authorize the establishment of a charter school, allowing only local schools boards and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to have that power.

The current law emerged from a 2012 push to overhaul public schools. It allowed certification of local groups as “charter authorizers.” Such a group could then enter into agreements, often with out-of-state education companies, to establish a charter school.

Critics of the procedure of allowing local groups to authorize charters say such groups have little oversight.

“There is already a process in place,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, which backed the bill to do away with certifying local groups as charter authorizers.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who often is aligned with groups that back sweeping changes in public schools, questioned why the local charter authorizer law is needed if none have been authorized since 2012.

“If this was so great, I am frustrated that no one has used it,” said Broadwater, a member of the committee.

The bill, much like the 2012 measure that authorized local charter authorizers, put traditional public school groups on one side and school overhaul advocates on the other.

Opponents of the Senate bill argued that local charter authorizers remain a needed option for families.

Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said about 26,000 students attend D- and F-rated public schools in the Baton Rouge area.

“We hope you keep this tool in place for the future,” Knapp told the panel.

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said “Louisiana is getting choice in public education right. Please stay the course.”

Warren Drake, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the current law allows charter schools that would not be answerable to any elected board.

Drake compared the statute to permitting out-of-state groups to enact laws for Louisiana.

“Think about that for a minute,” he said.

The committee also backed Senate Bill 342, which would tweak the way public school teachers are evaluated.

The legislation, also backed by Edwards, was agreed upon by a wide range of education groups after weeks of negotiations.

The bill would trim the role of student growth from 50 percent to 35 percent during teacher reviews.

Other signs of student achievement would account for 15 percent of the grade.

Classroom observations of teachers by principals would remain at 50 percent.

The panel also approved Senate Bill 262 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan “Blade” Morrish.

It would extend for another year — the 2016-17 school year — a state moratorium on various accountability measures during Louisiana’s move to new classroom standards.

Both bills next face House votes.

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