Louisiana Senate passes bill allowing corporate sponsorship of charter schools in exchange for student slots, board seats
Reader Comment: So if I donate money, I get to decide who gets an education? Awesome!! I don't see how this could go wrong or be mishandled.
Reader Comment: So we're adopting India's Caste System?
Reader Comment: The agenda is "screw" the middle & lower socioeconomic communities.
Reader Comment: They are going to let corporations control the student enrollment slots? Is this a joke? When are they going to stop selling the citizens and everything to private companies?
Reader Comment: Why can't the rich corporations just fund their own private school for their employees?
by Bill Barrow
BATON ROUGE -- Over the objections of some public school advocates, the Louisiana Senate voted 22-16 Monday to allow corporations to sponsor charter schools in exchange for controlling up to half of the enrollment slots and half of the governing board seats.
House Bill 421 by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, must return to the House, where the lower chamber is expected to approve only minor changes and send the bill on to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who announced his support for the measure in January. The House approved the bill 72-23 earlier in the session.
Chambers of commerce and other business lobbies pitched the bill as another incentive for business to come to Louisiana.
"This new business-charter school partnership legislation will help feed the pipeline of qualified workers for Louisiana businesses while creating important career opportunities for students," the governor said in a speech to business leaders earlier this year.
During floor debate, Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, called the bill "another tool in the toolbox" both for economic development and expanding educational opportunities, particularly families that cannot afford private school tuition.
Opposing senators decried the bill as another effort to chip away at public schools. Most of the outspoken opponents were Democrats, but Republican Buddy Shaw of Shreveport offered the most impassioned plea against the measure.
"You know what you're saying?" the retired public school principal said. "You're saying our public schools are not worth a damn! Let me tell you something, our public schools are worth something. They're not where we want them to be, but let's focus on that, and not on some business coming in."
New Orleans Democrats J.P. Morrell, Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Karen Carter Peterson described themselves as supportive of the charter school system that has blossomed in the city since Hurricane Katrina. But they said the measure goes too far in carving out seats from general admission.
"Public schools have to take everyone," Willard-Lewis said.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, replied in support of the bill, "Let's invite people into public education to help our kids. Let's invite business in as a partner to help our schools, help our teachers and, most of all, help our kids."
In order to qualify for enrollment preference and board influence, a corporate sponsor would have to either donate the land of which a school is built; provide at no cost the building or space the school occupies; or provide "major renovations to the existing school building or other capital improvements including major investments in technology." The bill defines qualifying renovations or investments as equal to at least 50 percent of the school's state appropriation under the minimum foundation program formula.
Florida has had a similar framework several years. Less than a half-dozen schools have been chartered there under a corporate partnership, according to Carter.
By a 15-20 vote, senators rejected an amendment that would have reduced to 25 percent the board seats and student slots that a sponsor could control. A similar amendment also failed in the House when the bill was in the lower chamber. In that debate, Minority Leader John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, said he didn't have a philosophical problem with the bill but said he had a problem "allowing them to do it on the cheap."
Echoing that argument, Willard-Lewis said the long-term effect is that the state will subsidize the education of the corporately selected students at a cost well beyond the firm's initial investment.
Peterson asked, "Where are the checks and balances" on a board effectively controlled by a single company? The charter would still have to be issued by a public school authority -- either state or local -- that retains oversight of charters. Those bodies also can pull charters they have issued.
Morrell wondered what would happen if a "porn shop or strip club ... or casino" wants to sponsor a school. Quinn chided Morrell for hyperbole, but answered, "I think we would welcome a business, casino or otherwise."
The bill continues a recent trend of the Legislature embracing policies that redirect tax dollars away from traditional public schools to charter programs, private school tuition scholarships and tax breaks for families that pay private school tuition. A separate bill this session, which now awaits Jindal's signature, would allow a household to deduct from their taxable income up to $5,000 in private school tuition and expenses per child.
Bill Barrow can be reached at email@example.com.