Bouie’s Behavior Calls Into Question Push For Return of RSD Schools

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Rep. Joe Bouie believes that New Orleans’ charter revolution is a sham that has left schools worse off than they were prior to the storm.

A meeting of the House Education Committee went from contentious to downright hostile on Wednesday, when Rep. Joe Bouie (D-New Orleans) repeatedly railed against charter schools and the Recovery School District’s (RSD) takeover of schools in New Orleans.

Bouie, who has spent much of the past year building support around legislation to return RSD charters to the Orleans Parish School Board, has tended to frame his effort around the principle of local democratic control over education. Now that Bouie’s outbursts have revealed his animosity toward charter schools and his delusional belief that schools are worse today than before Katrina, RSD school leaders and reform supporters are left wondering whether the reunification of schools would mark the beginning of a slow slide backwards.

I. Round One: Bouie vs. Landry

It all began when the committee took up House Bill 98, a proposal from Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith to eliminate independent (local) charter authorizers. Among those who came to testify against the bill were Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Executive Director, Caroline Roemer, IDEA Public Schools‘ Kenneth Campbell, and Choice Foundation CEO Mickey Landry.

As the trio wrapped up their testimony, Rep. Bouie was given the floor to ask Landry a question. Instead, Bouie almost immediately launched into a tirade against charter schools and the RSD’s reforms in New Orleans, which he repeatedly described as a “skewed and unscientific experiment” on children and families.

At one point, Bouie even tried to debunk New Orleans’ academic gains over the past ten years, asserting they were little more than an accounting trick made possible by changes to the state’s accountability metrics. In response, Landry told Bouie:

“With regard to the data, you are welcome – and I have invited you before – to come to Choice Foundation schools. I can show you data. I will show you proof in writing, in black and white – not from the state test, but from other nationally-normed assessments that we take – that show that our kids are doing much better than they were under the old…criminally corrupt system in New Orleans.”

II. Round Two: Bouie vs. White

Yet Bouie’s back-and-forth with Landry was only a skirmish compared to the heated exchange he subsequently had with State Superintendent John White, who appeared before the committee to testify against House Bill 167, a proposal to suspend BESE’s ability to authorize charter schools.

Bouie took advantage of the opportunity to pick a fight with White. He kicked things off by accusing the Superintendent of manipulating accountability data to justify reform efforts in New Orleans, which Bouie again referred to as a “state-sanctioned experiment.”

White vigorously disputed the characterization and the implicit association with abhorrent experiments conducted on African-Americans in the not-so-distant past, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. As White told Bouie:

“I understand that the word “experiment” not only has a denotation, but it has a historical connotation – one of the most ugly connotations in the history of this nation. And it is offensive, I believe, to the thousands of families who choose charter schools and the thousands of educators who work in them, for you to make that…association with the word in its ugliest sense.”

Needless to say, things went downhill from there. At one point Bouie declared, “It is time for Louisianans to understand that the charter movement is an experiment – and in fact, that children are being harmed.” Moreover, when an incredulous White asked Bouie to clarify whether he believed that students in his district were failing, Bouie said: “They’re failing…The data says that they’re failing.”

III. Bouie’s Comments Are Cause For Concern

Over the past year, momentum has been steadily been building behind the idea of returning RSD charters to the control of the Orleans Parish School Board. Lawmakers, school officials, and stakeholder groups have spent several months arguing over the details of such a plan and there are several different proposals up for consideration, including three bills from Rep. Bouie – House Bills 466, 1033, 1108 – as well as proposals from Rep. Neil Abramson (House Bill 1111) and Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (Senate Bill 432).

For their part, RSD charter leaders have been in no rush to return to the school board. While a handful of schools entered into negotiations with the board this year, the outcome of those discussions are unclear. Meanwhile, lingering concerns about the status of a new school funding plan, as well as OPSB’s capacity and willingness to follow through on their promises, have led many RSD charter school officials to decide that the risk isn’t worth it. And of course, underlying everything is the fear that the tremendous progress seen since Katrina might be slowly erased once schools are back under school board control.

The speedy return of schools to OPSB is increasingly seen as an inevitable.
More and more people regard the near-term return of RSD schools to OPSB as inevitable.

Rep. Bouie’s behavior on Wednesday makes clear that those underlying fears are valid. After all, what does it say when the leader of the return effort insists that our school system is worse now than it was before the storm? How can RSD schools trust the intentions behind a return plan crafted, in large part, by someone who clearly hates charter schools? And, how do we know that the politicians and officials who have been meeting behind-the-scenes to hammer out the details have been working in the best interests of students and families?

When it comes down to it, Bouie’s comments reveal that the push to return schools to local control has little to do with what’s best for kids (in fact, he even can’t recognize the progress kids have made before his very eyes). This is about power, it’s about control, and to a large extent, it’s about restoring the ancien régime of the pre-2005 New Orleans Public Schools system. Once schools are back in the bosom of OPSB, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

In a sense, the “original sin” of the post-Katrina reform movement in this city was our failure to address the root cause of the district’s problems: the Orleans Parish School Board. As a result, our eleven-year reform effort finds itself in an increasingly precarious position. I know that there are some people who insist that the board’s wayward past is behind it. But who can really say the board has changed when OPSB just recently delegated the funding formula decision to its superintendent, so that board members could avoid voting on it? Moreover, who believes the board will have the courage to make even tougher decisions that no doubt lie in store for us in the future?

Until we restructure the board, establish clear guardrails for their decision-making powers, and build the district’s capacity to assume the myriad responsibilities of the RSD, lawmakers should not rush to support any of the plans for return. The children of New Orleans have too much to lose.

This Week: A Charter School Showdown in House Ed

The House Education Committee takes up some contentious charter school bills this week.

For the past few weeks, the House Education Committee has taken up some fairly milquetoast proposals. But that’s about to change, as the panel hears a number of contentious anti-charter school bills this week.

On Wednesday, the Committee will consider a number of proposals to hinder BESE’s ability to approve charter schools, which would be a major disservice to tens of thousands of children across the state wallowing in low-performing schools. A bill from Rep. Greg Miller would shanghai charter schools into paying off the unfunded accrued liability of the state’s teacher retirement system, even though many of them don’t participate in the scheme. And, Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith is once again trying to push a bill requiring charter school teachers to meet the same certification requirements as those in traditional public schools (this, in spite of the fact that all research shows that certification has zero correlation with performance, but then again, what does evidence tell you?).

But a proposal from Rep. J. Rogers Pope is perhaps the most ridiculous bill that the House Education Committee will consider on Wednesday. Rep. Pope no longer wants to hold superintendents in C, D, F districts accountable for results, regardless of how badly their schools perform.

To see my analysis of each of the proposals up for consideration, click on the name of the bill in the table below.




House Bill 98 Support Provides relative to local charter authorizers and Type 1B charter schools
House Bill 167 Oppose Prohibits the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from authorizing certain types of charter schools under certain fiscal circumstances
House Bill 168 Oppose Requires charter school teachers to meet same certification requirements as other public school teachers
House Bill 338 Support Prohibits charter schools from requiring parents to provide certain student information as a condition of enrollment in the school
House Bill 399 Oppose Provides relative to requirements for local school superintendents’ contracts
House Bill 502 Oppose Requires the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct a fiscal impact study prior to making a determination relative to a Type 2 charter school proposal
House Bill 555 Oppose Provides relative to the payment of unfunded accrued liabilities of the Teachers’ Retirement System of La. from minimum foundation program funds allocated to charter schools
House Bill 674 Support Provides for considerations of chartering authorities in reviewing charter proposals and of the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education in entering into proposed charters, reviewing proposed charter authorizers, and recruiting chartering groups
House Bill 712 Oppose Provides relative to assignment of students with exceptionalities to schools closest to their home
House Bill 871 Oppose Provides relative to the instructional staff at a charter school
House Bill 879 Oppose Prohibits for-profit operators of charter schools
House Bill 1004 Support Provides relative to assets or property acquired or used by charter schools under certain circumstances

House Bill 1004

Provides relative to assets or property acquired or used by charter schools under certain circumstances

Filed By: Rep. Kenneth HavardE-mail


Relative to assets acquired or used by charter schools, provides that assets used to manage or operate a school by an entity engaged for such purpose shall be deemed to be assets acquired by the school and subject to disposition in the manner of other school assets and prohibits the school from leasing property from such an entity or any subsidiary thereof under certain circumstances.

Present law, relative to assets of charter schools, provides that any assets acquired by a charter school are the property of the school for the duration of the school’s charter agreement. Provides, if a school’s charter agreement is revoked or the school otherwise ceases to operate, that all assets purchased with public funds become the property of the chartering authority. (The “chartering authority” is a local school board, a local charter authorizer, or the State Bd. of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). A local charter authorizer is an entity certified by BESE to enter into agreements with chartering groups to establish a charter school.) Provides that assets that become the property of a local charter authorizer pursuant to present law shall be used solely for purposes of operating charter schools. Requires charter schools to maintain records of assets acquired with private funds. Present law does not apply to Type 4 charter schools, which are chartered by local school boards. Present law provides that assets acquired by a Type 4 charter school are the property of the local school board.

Proposed law retains present law and additionally provides that if a charter school contracts with or otherwise engages a legal entity to manage or operate the school, all assets used in the management or operation of the school shall be deemed to be assets acquired by the charter school and subject to present law.

Proposed law also prohibits a charter school from leasing property from a legal entity with which it has contracted for the management or operation of the school or from any affiliate or subsidiary of such entity under terms that would result in the charter school paying aggregate lease payments in excess of 150% of the value of the property at the inception of the lease.

Position: Support

This is a common sense bill that ensures that any assets purchased by organizations running a charter school are returned to the authorizer if the school’s charter agreement is revoked or the school otherwise ceases to operate, as it should.

It also prohibits shady arrangements regarding the leasing of property from an organization contracted to manage a charter school, which again, makes sense.

See bill text here