In 2014, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law allowing parents and legal guardians of students enrolled in D- and F-rated public schools to request a transfer to a higher-performing school in the district or in another school district. Schools were given the ability to define “capacity” at each school and grade level, decide whether capacity exists, and ultimately approve or deny such transfer request.

Little was done with the law until a few years ago, when the Legislature amended it to require schools to notify parents about the opportunity, receive transfer applications on a common statewide timeline (“shall begin no later than March first and end no earlier than March twenty-eighth, annually”), and allow families whose transfer requests have been denied to appeal to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to ensure that the district’s capacity definition was followed.

No statewide data are available yet to know the extent to which families are taking advantage of this law, but Pelican reached out to a few school districts to inquire. Here’s what we found:

This is admittedly a very small sampling and more comprehensive review is needed, but even this snapshot reveals some interesting things:

  • Some school districts are doing a very good job accommodating parents’ requests and allowing kids to transfer to a higher performing school that parents believe will better serve their needs.
  • Others need to improve their parental notification and application processes and ensure that their local policy aligns with state law.
  • Some districts lack the ability to provide school choice to many families due to widespread overall low performance. Simply put, some districts don’t have many A, B, or C rated schools at all, and the ones they do have don’t have room to enroll more kids. This is sadly the fact across our state, which has low expectations for school ratings to begin with and staggering percentages of kids who aren’t on grade level.

School districts that provided a copy of their denial letter to parents did not make them aware of the opportunity to appeal to BESE if they sought have an independent review of whether the district’s capacity policy was followed.

The ability to choose a school that fits is critical for every Louisiana family, particularly if their child is struggling in a government-zoned low-performing public school that is failing to improve and they lack the financial resources to choose a different option. Lawmakers should consider further improvements to this public school choice law to ensure compliance and enhance transparency through public reporting. They should also strengthen the ability of families to seek transfers to schools in neighboring school districts, particularly if choice isn’t possible within their district, and like other states, allow state dollars to “follow the child” to a private school or home-based educational program if that’s what kids need to reach their full potential.

Only then will Louisiana’s children—and our state—truly have the ability to flourish. And that’s key to Louisiana’s comeback.

Read more about the Pelican Institute’s Comeback Agenda here.