Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal appeared on Fox News Sunday July 12, 2015, to talk policy, taxes and Louisiana's success. He especially lauded the state’s advances in education.
"In Louisiana, we privatized our state charity hospital system. We've got statewide school choice, where the dollars follow the child instead of the child following the dollars. In New Orleans, nearly 100 percent of our kids are in charter schools. Doubling the number doing reading and math on grade level in five years."
Not a lot of school districts across the nation can claim charter school attendance rates that are quite so high. Using data from the 2012-13 school year, 92 percent of school districts had less than half of their total students attending a charter school.
Is New Orleans that different?
According to data, the answer is yes. In 2012-2013, the New Orleans School District had 84.1% of all its students attending charter schools. In 2013-14 that number increased to 91 percent.
New Orleans’ charter school rate is uncharacteristically high even compared to other Louisiana districts, as the following chart shows.
Why do students overwhelmingly attend charter schools in New Orleans?
The answer may have something to do with the sheer number of charter schools there. Of the 82 schools currently in the Orleans Parish, 76 are charter schools. Only 6 are non-charter public schools.
Why so many?
The history of charter schools in New Orleans tracks back to 1995. That year, Louisiana passed its first charter school law, which allowed up to eight volunteer districts to have charter schools established. In 1997, the law was changed so that any districts could volunteer, although "the number of charter schools statewide was capped at 42."
In 1998, the first charter school opened in New Orleans. However, it would be almost a decade before charter schools became prevalent in there.
The Louisiana Legislature established the Recovery School District in 2003. The RSD "is a special school district run by the Louisiana Department of Education that intervenes in the management of chronically low-performing schools."
That year, "chronically low-performing schools" were defined as those that earned the "lowest performance label, Academically Unacceptable (AUS), for four consecutive years."
That first year, 17 schools were identified for takeover. Sixteen of those schools were in New Orleans.
After the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education gave the RSD the green light to take control of the schools, the RSD had the choice of either "directly operat(ing) the schools itself, or to contract with universities or non-profit organizations to operate them as charter schools."
Laura Hawkins, the deputy chief of staff at RSD, said the RSD always had the goal of establishing charter schools, believing from the start that it was "the best strategy."
Still, before 2005, there were only a handful of charter schools in New Orleans. "Charter schools were a nascent movement," said Hawkins.
And then Hurricane Katrina came.
Brian Beabout, a professor of educational leadership at the University of New Orleans, has studied education reform in post-Katrina New Orleans. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, (New Orleans) temporarily lost 100 percent of its students and did not reopen a single school for more than two months," Beabout wrote in a 2007 article.
When the Orleans Parish School Board did reopen public schools in January 2006, those schools were reopened as charters. Why? "OPSB opted to open the schools as charter schools to take advantage of the U.S. schools," said a Cowen Institute report.
"(The OPSB) had easy access to government money," said Hawkins.
Part of the Katrina legacy
After the hurricane, many in New Orleans realized they had the opportunity to start with a "clean educational slate" and restructure the school system. In response, the state Legislature introduced Act 35.
"(This) amendment changed the focus from chronically failing individual schools and added a ‘district in academic crisis,’ " Beabout said.
"(The amendment) was tailored specifically to wrest control of New Orleans public schools from the locally elected school board and put them in the hands of the RSD. They defined any district with a certain percent of failing schools as "in crisis" and took control of all schools in the district which performed below the state average.
Initially, 114 schools were transferred over the RSD for control. The Cowen Institute reports that under Act 35, the RSD "was empowered to lease, rebuild, or renovate the school facilities as necessary for the successful operation of schools, but it could not sell any school buildings, as they still belonged to the OPSB."
Because of the sudden increase of schools given to it for control, the RSD did not have enough approved charter organizations established. Because of this, the RSD took direct control of some schools as a school district. Over the years, as more charters were established, the number of schools run directly by the RSD decreased. In 2014, the RSD became a 100 percent charter school district.
For the record, all of this largely played out before Jindal was elected governor in 2007.
Jindal said that "in New Orleans, nearly 100 percent of our kids are in charter schools." As of the 2013-14 school year, 91 percent of student in New Orleans go to charter schools.
However, the high percentage is a reflection of the fact that the majority of schools in New Orleans are charter schools. Most of them were established after public schools within "in crisis" school districts (read New Orleans Public Schools) were handed over to the state-controlled RSD in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, these schools were converted to charter schools.
Jindal’s statement is accurate. We rate it True.