Thirty Nonprofits Line up for New Orleans School Charters

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thirty different nonprofits have applied to run new charter schools in New Orleans. New Orleans College Prep, which runs a K-8 school in Central City, is applying to expand with a high school at the Walter L. Cohen building.

In all, the different groups turned in 38 separate applications, as New Orleans edges closer to establishing the country's first school system made up almost entirely of charters, schools that take public funding but operate autonomously.

This year's round of applications will come with a new twist. For the first time since the state took over most New Orleans public schools nearly six years ago, the Orleans Parish School board has won the legal right to accept charter applications as well.

Until now, new charter schools could only open under the auspices of the state's Recovery School District after getting the OK from the state board of education, which votes on applications in December. Now the local School Board, laboring to overcome a dismal pre-Katrina reputation, has taken its first concrete steps toward expanding beyond the 17 or so schools it was left with after the takeover.

"We're not going to charter for the sake of chartering, " said School Board President Lourdes Moran. "But we'd really like to see quality providers come to the table that would complement the portfolio of schools that we currently have."

Tug of war between districts

It's a development that opens a new front in the tug of war between the local board and the state, but with one major caveat. The School Board does not have any spare buildings for new schools. So for now, any new charter operators in the district will need to come up with their own space.

The Recovery School District controls a number of school properties that don't already have operators to manage them. And it runs a small group of traditional schools that haven't cleared the state's bar for academic performance and are therefore eligible to be taken over by a charter.

Those openings have drawn 30 applications for so-called Type 5 charters, which give a charter operator a place in the Recovery District, although it's not yet clear how many slots will be open next school year.

The district is holding a series of community meetings to collect input on which schools should get new management. And it hopes to get local residents to sign off before one school operator or another is chosen.

One charter application that may raise eyebrows: the Pelican Education Foundation, a group that lost its charter to run Abramson Science and Technology Charter School this year, has turned in an application to open a new K-12 school. After launching an investigation at Abramson in May, the state decided that school administrators failed to properly follow up on alleged sexual incidents on campus, a charge the school vehemently denies. The state board chose to revoke the charter last month.

A spokeswoman for the department of education said there is no rule barring a group that has lost a charter from applying for a new one, but the group's track record will play into the decision to approve or deny.

Local groups trying again

Some of the other groups that have applied for a spot are already well known in the city. The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, is applying for its 10th charter in New Orleans. ReNew, which already operates three campuses plus two accelerated high school programs, is applying for another K-8 school and a high school.

New Orleans College Prep, which runs a K-8 school in Central City, is applying to expand with a high school at the Walter L. Cohen building. And Collegiate Academies, the group behind Sci Academy, is applying for its third high school charter.

Some groups that have been turned down in the past -- mainly alumni and local community organizations -- are making another go at winning approval.

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