School choice has definitely been front and center during the 2022 legislative session, but not just because of the proposed new education savings account programs. The Louisiana Legislature has considered several bills related to charter schools that would either help or hinder their ability to serve students throughout Louisiana.

Charter schools are public schools authorized by either state or local education boards and directly governed by a board of parents, business leaders, and other individuals, the majority of whom must reside in the local community. The schools are given additional autonomy than traditional public schools in exchange for higher levels of accountability, including the ability to be shut down for failure to meet academic expectations and adhere to financial and organizational standards. Louisiana has 138 public charter schools statewide, serving over 84,000 students.

One bill, Senate Bill 145 by Senator Kirk Talbot, would make it easier to create more of a unique type of charter school that advances both education and economic development. In 2012, Louisiana authorized “corporate charters” to partner large businesses needing great schools for their employees and charter school operators seeking to open new schools to serve children and communities. Businesses, either individually or as part of a consortium of businesses, can donate land, building space, renovations to existing school buildings, and/or technology in an amount equivalent to at least 50 percent of the per-pupil funding allocation. In exchange, it is entitled to up to 50 percent of the school’s seats for their employees’ children (the remaining seats are filled via student lottery like a traditional charter school) as well as a minority percentage of seats on the school’s governing board. Businesses must enter into a memorandum of understanding with the school, outlining the ways in which the business will be involved in providing support to the school, including but not limited to internships for students, career counseling, academic tutoring, or enrichment activities.

In the ten years since this law was first passed, Louisiana has only opened two open-enrollment corporate charter schools serving the state’s two most populous regions:

  • BASIS Baton Rouge Materra: This school was Louisiana’s first corporate charter school, partnering with Woman’s Hospital in the capital city of Baton Rouge. The school enrolls approximately 750 students in grades K-7 and is set to grow K-12 over time. The school uses a rigorous curriculum and prioritizes student supports; its most recent accountability rating is “B” and the school routinely has a long waiting list of families who want to enroll their child in this innovative and successful school.
  • John Ochsner Discovery Health Sciences Academy: This corporate charter school, which also uses a rigorous curriculum and boasts robust supports for children with special needs, opened in 2020 in partnership with Ochsner Health in the Greater New Orleans region. It serves approximately 575 students in grades PK-7. It has not yet received an accountability rating, but it is operated by the same non-profit organization that runs another school in the city that is one of the highest-performing schools in the region, as well as one of the highest performing charter schools in the state.

Currently, Louisiana law requires these charter school proposals to be submitted to and considered by local school boards unless the local school district is rated “D” or “F” in the state accountability system. If approved, the school may enroll only students who live within the geographic boundaries of the traditional public school system. This is problematic because large corporate partners like Woman’s Hospital and Ochsner employ individuals who reside in multiple parishes. The current law would not allow them to extend these educational options to all of their employees. Only children of employees who live in the parish in which the school is located would be able to attend.

Senate Bill 145 would change this by allowing corporate charter applications to be submitted to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as regional economic development priorities allowing students from multiple parishes to be admitted. This bill has sparked an interest in establishing more corporate charter school partnerships throughout the state, particularly in rural communities desperate for educational options as well as economic growth. The bill has passed the Senate and House Education Committee and is pending House final passage.

With engagement by the Pelican Institute and several other partners dedicated to advancing high-quality school options across our state, the legislature has also rejected proposals that would have stripped charter schools of their autonomy, introduced additional red tape and delays into Louisiana’s charter school application process, and focused charter school approval decisions on system issues instead of what’s best for kids.

Charter schools are valuable, community-led options in Louisiana’s K-12 education portfolio and necessary to the overall strategy to prepare all children for successful transition to college and careers. Children are unique, have different learning needs, and sometimes require alternate approaches and learning environments. Parents deserve multiple options when it comes to selecting the educational setting that works best for their kid. Numerous studies have shown that giving communities multiple educational options – and a dose of healthy competition – leads to increased academic achievement across all types of schools. We applaud lawmakers for putting the needs of our children first and continuing to ensure that multiple options exist to ensure their success.