Of all the changes that swept into New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, one of the most significant in the realm of education has been the surge in charter schools. Most of the public schools to reopen since the storm have followed this model – which use public funds but center governance at the school level rather than a central office or school board – and many more could be on the way thanks to a federal grant announced this summer.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings traveled to New Orleans to announce a grant of nearly $24 million to Louisiana for a program to help plan, NEWSBEAT – Charter schools – the future is heredesign and create new charter schools. Eight other states will receive similar funding this year as part of a national charter school program. Louisiana’s share comes on the heels of a $20.9 million federal grant received in the weeks after Katrina to expand, repair and create new charter schools.
“We want to be a partner and investor in charter schools in Louisiana,” Spellings said at a press conference held at the Belle Chasse Primary School. “New Orleans really does have a great, great opportunity to reinvent itself.”
She said she believes charter schools give parents more options for their children’s education and create “good laboratories for educational innovation.”
Though the money was awarded to Louisiana, the state will direct most of it to New Orleans as the area of greatest need and with the highest interest in charter schools. The Louisiana Department of Education has already spent more than $3 million to develop and operate 13 charter schools in New Orleans since the storm and has an additional $1 million reserved to help start four more in the area this summer.
The latest federal funding will be used to provide start-up grants of $200,000 to groups interested in creating charter schools and paying those schools $2,000 per student for programming. That money takes the place of fees that would normally be paid to the charter schools by local school districts, but which local authorities would be hard-pressed to produce with the city’s diminished property tax base since the storm.
“We know that the metropolitan area has really grabbed onto the idea of charter schools,” said State Education Superintendent Cecil Picard. “I say that the charter school opportunity is a silver lining in that dark cloud.”
– Ian McNulty