May 16, 2013

With Nearly 200,000 Louisiana Students In Struggling Schools, Proposals For New Schools Double   

BATON ROUGE, La. - The Department of Education announced today that an impressive list of organizations have expressed interest in creating high-quality schools for families across Louisiana. This year, the number of proposed schools has nearly doubled, with 35 applicants presenting plans to open more than 100 new schools in 19 parishes across the state, many of which will directly benefit students in struggling schools.

This application yield marks a substantial increase compared to 2012, when 34 applicants proposed opening 53 schools in 12 parishes. In addition to 19 Louisiana-based operators, nationally recognized operators, such as Democracy Prep, Celerity, YES Prep, FUSE, and Green Dot have proposed plans to start schools in Louisiana.

"Louisiana currently has almost 200,000 students across the state attending struggling schools. No student should have to attend a low-performing school, "said State Superintendent John White. "Fortunately, educators from across our state and across the country have stepped up to empower parents and put our kids on a level playing field." Charter schools are non-profit public schools operated independent of school boards.

On the whole, Louisiana charter schools have made an impressive impact not only within the state, but in comparison to other states. According to a 2009 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, Louisiana's charter school students showed significant gains in reading compared to traditional public school students, outpacing 14 other states in the study and the District of Columbia.  In math, Louisiana and three other states tied for the highest significant gains by charter schools students compared to traditional public school students.

To expand new district public and charter public schools, this year the Department of Education launched Believe and Succeed, a grant program to recruit local educators and entrepreneurs to launch new schools in their communities; recruit proven operators from across the country; and work with quality local charter organizations to expand. Future announcements will include Believe and Succeed awards to educators with proposals to start new traditional public schools in their communities.

This statewide expansion was a coordinated effort by the Department and charter school operators to ensure that families were provided options across the state, not simply in one or two areas and to expand on previous success. For example:

Baton Rouge. With 64 percent of schools in Baton Rouge receiving a D or F rating, the Department recognized the need and the urgency to provide innovative solutions to an intensifying problem.  Through collaboration among the Department, community leaders,  and non-profit and business organizations, the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone was created to build a system of autonomous, high-quality schools focused on preparing all students for college and careers. Several proposals announced today aspire to inclusion in the Achievement Zone.

New Orleans. With nearly 90 percent of student attending charter schools, New Orleans has served as the model for high quality charter schools, with CREDO (the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University) finding that 27 charter schools demonstrated significantly better results in math and/or reading than their traditional Louisiana public-school counterparts. As a result of the solid foundation present in New Orleans, the Department's work focuses on continuing and expanding the success in New Orleans through the growth of proven, high quality models like Collegiate and KIPP.

Shreveport. Caddo Parish has the largest concentration of struggling schools in the state of Louisiana-12,000 students attend 22 open-enrollment schools that received a letter grade of F from the state in 2012. This is over 20 percent of the students who attend failing schools statewide. Over half of these schools, have been struggling for two or more years; almost a quarter of these schools have been struggling for six or more years. To address this need, the Department has received applications from four charter operators: Friendship, Celerity, VSchoolz, and National Heritage Academies, seeking to open new schools in the area.

"Collegiate Academies is excited to submit multiple charter applications that will allow us to further our mission of preparing all kids for college success and open up to seven high schools in Louisiana in the next seven years.  We look forward to expanding our successful school model both within and beyond New Orleans, beginning in Baton Rouge," said Morgan Carter Ripski, President of Collegiate Academies.  

Over the past several years, Louisiana has shown a commitment to ensuring that families across the state have real options and to reducing the number of student stuck in struggling schools. During the 2012 Regular Legislative Session, Act 2 created a common charter application and streamlined the application and approval process for potential charter operators. Additionally, the Department has worked to provide information about the needs of the state through the Call for Quality options and strengthened the review process to ensure proposals are high quality. Over the next few months, the Department will continue to work with applicants to finalize proposals and in August, will make recommendations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for their approval. If approved, many of these schools will begin opening in the fall of 2014.