Public education in Louisiana has been either hit or miss. Most of the schools are either failing or doing well, according to the letter grade system the state adopted in 2010. Out of the 1,303 schools in the state, 464 of them graded out at D or F last year, while 471 were at A or B. The failing ones are improving, but apparently not fast enough, because yesterday during a teleconference, state Superintendent John White announced a $5 million grant program to have those schools taken over by educators who believe they can do better.
“We have to accelerate the pace of change,” White said, as he announced Believe and Succeed, the state’s new program. Under Believe and Succeed, those educators (non-profits, existing charters, or even teachers,) can submit plans for replacing D or F schools with a better model to the Department of Education. If a plan is accepted, the educators would be eligible for training and matching funds from two types of grants, either the New School Development fund or the Expanding Excellence fund.
Under New School Development, the new proposed school can be a charter or a traditional public school in any school district. The applicants would also have to have what White called at least one school leader candidate. That candidate would be the one responsible for implementing the plan. If that candidate is over a traditional public school, it’s a must that he or she has full say over who’s hired and fired, how the budget is broke-down, and curriculum decisions. As with last year's Act 1, which is presently unconstitutional, that’s a move to keep school boards out of a school’s day to day business, something White calls letting those closer to the students handle the educating.
With approval from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the Dept of Education would then provide matching funds to those whose plans are approved. The state will get its share of the money from federal funds that it already dedicates to failing schools via Race To The Top and other federal sources.
After putting their candidate through a year’s worth of state training, the educators would then be eligible to open a new school in place of a failing one. When asked if the schools graded D or F would be replaced based on how long they’ve held that rating, White told the Examiner that the school district would make that decision.
Under the Expanding Excellence grant, the Dept of Education and BESE will match the funds local groups put-up to help proven charter groups open new schools. Those new schools would also replace ones graded D or F. There will be no training involved with this grant, since the money would be going to charters that are already successful.
White says he expects dozens of applications for both grants, initially, and that the grants would average somewhere around $50,000. The deadline for applications is April 26th. Those accepted will be notified by May 15th.
Here in Orleans Parish, more than half the schools (43 out of 76) are rated D or F. 40 of them belong to the Recovery School District, 2 to Independent Charters, and 1 to the Orleans Parish School Board.