"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Louisiana Charter Model: Taxation Without Representation

Since Texas developed the model used to blow up American public schools under Bush II, their neighbor, Louisiana has been envious. Smaller, poorer, and even less educated, Louisiana has aspired to inspire educational atrocities of their own just like Texas, and they have. In 2000, they became the first state in the nation to use a single test to determine if elementary school children (grades 4 and 8) would be promoted to the next grade. Even our motivational speaker ex-President would applaud that one, and other states (and NYCity) followed Louisana's dubious distinction, despite what testing experts and psychologists have said about the practice as abuse. (There are big, big lawsuits coming as soon as people wake up to what has happened to childhood in America).

Now under the school leadership of Paul Pastorek, Louisiana is on the throat-cutting edge again, and this past week they earned the accolades of the Gates and Broad puppet, Arne Duncan, for their thoroughly unscientific and non-peer reviewed techniques for determining how State test scores can be used to judge teacher preparation programs. It looks as though Louisiana's State Board commissioned an entirely competent educational psychologist from LSU to step entirely outside his area of expertise to manufacture a quick and dirty way to measure the "value added" by schools of education to the LEAP scores of Louisiana children. The studies are unpublished, and as far I can tell, beyond the readership of anyone not approved by Paul Pastorek.

Now Louisiana has made history on the charter school front. Aside from their replacement of NOLA Public Schools with a charter system in the wake of Katrina (remember "thank you, Katrina, all the time" charter advocate, Phyllis Landrieu), the Louisana Senate snaked through a provision last summer to give charter schools the same funding as public schools (including local dollars), despite the fact that charters are not required to have, and often don't have, certified teachers, equal pay, buses, lunchrooms, libraries, art, drama, athletics--or in the case of virtual charters, EVEN BUILDINGS.

Local superintendents and school boards are rightfully outraged at the fact that their skimpy local tax dollars are now being siphoned off by corporate charter schools that have no public oversight or regulation from the communities that are now required to fund them. From 2theadvocate.com:
A change in Louisiana law last year is forcing local school systems to pay for many new charter schools whether they like them or not.

School superintendents are starting to fight back. Last month, superintendents flooded the state with letters of complaint directed at three proposals to create strictly online charter schools that in two cases would draw students from all over Louisiana.

The superintendents submitted a range of complaints, including the involvement of for-profit companies in these would-be cybercharters, and whether these schools can comply with a raft of state laws.

The complaints prompted the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to postpone consideration of these cybercharters and several other charter school proposals until December.

A key underlying complaint of the superintendents is concern about how the state will determine who pays for these new schools.
The law change is also at issue in a Union Parish lawsuit scheduled to reach a Baton Rouge courtroom Thursday.

Until June 2008, the state solely paid the cost for these charter schools, known as Type 2 charters. Charter schools are exempt from many of the normal requirements imposed on public schools in hopes that they will serve as educational laboratories.

The charter schools relied mostly on the normal state-allocated per-pupil funding that pays for public schools. The state, however, also covered the sizable chunk of money that local sales taxes and property taxes normally covered through a separate annual appropriation.

The Legislature, however, changed that. An amendment on the Senate floor to an unrelated bill late in the 2008 regular session mandated that Type 2 charters created thenceforth would get not only state per-pupil funding, but would also receive a share of local sales taxes and property taxes. . . . .
Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, is blunt about what he thinks of that new law.

“It’s kind of like the Boston Tea Party all over again,” said Jones, superintendent of schools in Rapides Parish. “It’s taxation without representation.”

In this case, local voters approved sales taxes and property taxes for public education in their cities and parishes and made the local school boards the stewards of these funds.

Jones views the redirection of such money to charter schools already rejected by local school boards as an unlawful taking of public funds.

Jones said online charter schools present even more of a problem because they could siphon away local sales and property taxes from every one of the state’s 70 school districts.

Jones said superintendents, along with other public education groups, hope to persuade the Legislature to reverse course when it reconvenes next spring.

Failing that, Jones said, he expects lawsuits will arise, though he said he has no plans at present to head to court.

Keith Guice, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the superintendents have a point.

“I think there is a potential for litigation involving the local taxes going to schools where the tax was approved not for that purpose,” the BESE president said.

Guice, who is from Monroe, is no stranger to this controversy. Just northwest of him in Farmerville, the Union Parish school system is already in court over a new charter school.

The school system is suing the state Department of Education to try to regain more than $500,000 that it estimates is being redirected this school year to the new D’Arbonne Woods Charter School in Farmerville. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday before state District Judge Todd Hernandez. . . .

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