During the 2015 legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers faced the difficult task of continuing meaningful education reforms, while balancing a projected $1.6 billion budget deficit. ExcelinEd commends leaders like Senator Conrad Appel and Representative Steve Carter for ensuring that Louisiana stayed the course on access to high-quality educational opportunities for its students.
FUNDING FOR SCHOOL CHOICE AND COURSE ACCESS
During the 2015 Legislative Session, lawmakers maintained funding for programs that provide students with opportunities to customize their education to meet their individual needs. Despite a $1.6 billion budget deficit, the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the state’s Course Choice Program (or “Course Access”) are fully funded.
During the 2014-2015 school year, more than 7,600 students enrolled in a participating Louisiana Scholarship Program private school of choice, and a total of 13,000 students applied for the program.
Louisiana’s Course Choice Program has allowed students to enroll in more than 19,000 courses this past school year, using online and blended learning options to offer public school students greater access to courses that may not be adequate or available at their current school. Louisiana has become a leader in providing students with opportunities to customize their education, whether one course at a time or through an entirely different educational setting.
The House Education Committee, chaired by Representative Carter, defeated two proposals aimed at reducing students’ access to school choice programs. House Bill 21 would have prohibited the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from authorizing a charter school in districts that earned an A or B grade. The proposal overlooked the fact that while a district may earn a high letter grade that does not mean every school in the district has earned such a high grade.
House Bill 340 was also defeated in committee. The bill would have provided that an entering kindergarten student would only be eligible for the state’s voucher program, the Louisiana Scholarship Program, if the student would have otherwise been zoned for a school that earned a D or F letter grade. The defeated proposal would have pulled parents back into a system where educational options were based on their geography and that assumed that every child’s needs are met in A, B and C schools. A recent study showed that more than 91 percent of parents are satisfied or very satisfied with their child’s Louisiana Scholarship Program school and with their child’s academic performance in the program.
RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT: CHARTERS, CHOICE AND A-F SCHOOL GRADING
The full House of Representatives defeated a proposal that sought to turn a formula for success on its head. HB 166 proposed to force schools in the state’s Recovery School District (RSD) to move back under the auspices of their home parish school district if they improve and earn better than an F school grade. Today, because of the RSD’s unique blend of choice, innovation and accountability, 88 percent of the 59 RSD schools are no longer failing. This is a more than 50 percent increase compared to 2008. Many would see this as a sign of success in the now all-charter RSD, where parents can even choose their child’s school via the RSD’s OneApp system. However, the bill proposed to automatically force innovative charters out of the very system in which they are seeing academic gains for their students.