Jindal Eyes Broadening Scope of Who Can Authorize Charter Schools

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February 13, 2012; Source: The Times-Picayune | Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has outlined a plan that would broaden the number and type of organizations that could authorize (or approve) new charter schools in Louisiana. This would likely result in the rapid growth of charter schools statewide, according to a recent story in the Times-Picayune. New Orleans has the country’s highest rate of charter school attendance—80 percent—and the change would mean nonprofits, community groups, and universities could all soon be involved in the statewide authorizing process, which has given this local debate a national audience.

According to the Times-Picayune, while Gov. Jindal has not yet provided specifics, his education plan includes mention of a goal to change state law in order to “allow community organizations, nonprofits, universities and other local entities to apply directly to the state to become charter authorizers.” State School Superintendent John White has indicated that the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will establish a “rigorous process” to oversee applicants for authorizer positions. Providing context on what this change would mean, the Times-Picayune notes, “in other words, BESE will act as the authorizer of the authorizers, an odd development for a movement created partly to cut down on bureaucracy.”

Some in Louisiana’s charter school community have observed that the authorizing process works against small grassroots organizations that don’t have the benefit of larger management organizations behind them, so this switch could come as a welcome change for these groups. On the other hand, states with numerous authorizers tend to have weaker performance rates. In Ohio, for example, “dozens of nonprofits” served as authorizers for a time, which made it possible for applicants to be choosy in their own selection process but also made oversight more difficult. Bryan Hassel, co-director of the education policy consulting firm Public Impact, explains that because authorizers typically get a percentage of a school’s operating budget, there can be an “incentive for authorizers to make themselves attractive to schools by not being very rigorous.”

The article notes the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ finding that the current trend nationally is to have statewide authorizing boards that focus solely on charter school issues. At this point, Ohio and Minnesota are the only states that allow private nonprofits to serve as authorizers, so it will be interesting to see if Louisiana will be next, and if so, to what effect. –Anne Eigeman