LAE mobilizes against school bill

House Bill 887, approved overwhelmingly during the regular session, is on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk awaiting his signature — or his veto.

The Louisiana Association of Educators is urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto a bill that would convert a Baton Rouge charter school into a boarding school for at-risk public school students — a school that would have a school board unaccountable to local or state oversight.

House Bill 887 sailed through the Legislature during the regular session with a combined 123-2 vote in both the House and Senate. The bill would create Thrive Academy and allow students who meet certain criteria, no matter the school district in which they’re currently assigned, to attend. The bill creates a nine-person board of directors to the school, with appointments to the board made by the state superintendent of education, the governor, the director of the state Department of Children and Family Services, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, state lawmakers and others.

The board of directors is given in the bill a broad range of powers including the right to purchase land, equipment and supplies, and enter into contracts — all at taxpayer expense and without oversight. If the bill is signed by Gov. Edwards — or allowed to become law through no action by the governor — Thrive Academy would become incorporated on July 1, 2017. That, not coincidentally, is the day after the charter for Thrive Baton Rouge, a non-profit charter school that was registered in East Baton Rouge parish in 2011, expires.

The Louisiana Association of Educators, at its annual meeting in Marksville, is taking aim at the bill. LAE representatives, according to LAE Legislative and Political Director Shane Riddle, have already met with the governor’s office to lodge the group’s opposition to the bill.

In an email to The IND Wednesday morning, Riddle outlined the group’s reasons for opposing the bill:

• While the school is defined as “its own local education agency” (p. 6) it is not a “parish and city school system” entitled to receive Minimum Foundation Program funds under Article 8, Section 13(B). Further erosion of this constitutional provision should not be tolerated.

• The definition of an “at-risk” student (p. 2) is overbroad.

• There are no criteria for admission.

• There are no geographic boundaries for the students of the school.

• While the bill states that the “school shall be subject to the same laws, rules, regulations and other requirements applicable to public schools” it then limits those laws, etc. to those applicable to charter schools.

• The school’s “board” is not elected by the public.

• The school’s “board” is highly political.

• The school is not prohibited from leasing property at above market rates from entities such as the THRIVE Foundation (which now owns all property previously purchased with public funds by THRIVE Baton Rouge).

• There is no indication that property purchased by the school with public funds will remain “public.”

• The bill forces the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and non-public schools in Baton Rouge to permit students at the school to participate in extra-curricular activities. This is particularly troubling with respect to the entanglement between this supposedly “public” school and non-public schools. Additionally, there is no method in the bill by which to reimburse non-public schools for the costs associated with this mandate.

• The fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that the operational costs at the school will skyrocket from $11,341 per student ($1,474,330/130 students) in FY 2016 to $23,714 per student ($8.5 M/350 students) in FY 2017.

• The fiscal note attached to the bill indicates that there are other costs that are indeterminable at the time (such as retirement, group insurance and costs related to support services) that will add to the operational costs at the school.

• There is no reason for the state to take over this school at the end of its charter with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.

• If the school, operated as a Type 1 charter school, is worth replicating, that replication should be accomplished in other parish and city school systems where the school (and its board of directors) is ultimately responsible to the voters in the school system that approves and establishes it.

To read the bill, click here.