It’s Public School Choice Month in Louisiana!
In a move that hasn’t gotten a lot of public attention, the legislature, governor, and state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education enacted laws and regulations over the past few years regarding students being able to transfer from low-performing public schools to higher-performing ones as determined by the state’s K-12 education testing and accountability system. This is the first year in which timelines go into effect for local school districts to accept student transfer requests from parents. The request window is open from March 1 through 28.
La. R.S. 17:4035.1 enacted the “Louisiana public school choice” law, and it provides that:
A. The parent or other legal guardian of any student may enroll his child in the public school of his choice, without regard to residence, school system geographic boundaries, or attendance zones, provided both of the following apply:
(1) The public school in which the student was most recently enrolled, or would otherwise attend, received a school performance letter grade of “D” or “F” for the most recent school year, pursuant to the state’s school and district accountability system.
(2) The school in which the student seeks to enroll received a school performance letter grade of “A”, “B”, or “C” for the most recent school year, pursuant to the state’s school and district accountability system, and has sufficient capacity at the appropriate grade level.
A listing of school performance letter grades can be found on the Louisiana Department of Education’s website or at www.louisianaschools.com (refer to the school’s most recent 2021-2022 Letter Grade). Louisiana has about 215 D or F-rated public schools where students are largely assigned based on where they live according to attendance zones approved by the local school board. The local school districts with the most D and F-rated schools are Caddo (29), St. Landry (9), Ouachita (8), Rapides (8), Natchitoches (5), and Richland (5).
Some of these and other local school districts also have D and F-rated public charter schools that are schools of choice – meaning students are not assigned there, but parents must affirmatively choose them – and fall under strict performance standards where they can be shut down if they fail to improve. The new public school choice law was designed to similarly give parents and students relief when trapped in a government-assigned, low-performing school, ensuring that they have other educational options available.
The law requires that prior to the transfer request period of March 1-28, the local school board must notify parents of students enrolled in D or F-rated schools about their ability to seek a transfer, identify higher-rated schools within the district, and outline the process for submitting a transfer request. Each local school board must also post this information on its website.
If a parent’s transfer request is denied, the law provides for an appeals process whereby the parent can request a review of the denial by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). Within ninety days of receipt of a request for review, BESE must determine if the local school board’s policy was followed and whether sufficient capacity for the student actually exists at the requested school, per the local policy. If it determines that the policy was not followed in denying the parent’s request, the local school board will be required to reconsider its denial.
All students, even those zoned to higher-performing schools, have unique learning needs and deserve multiple educational options to select the school that best supports them. But this new law is a positive step forward for Louisiana, empowering parents whose kids are assigned to the lowest-performing public schools across our state where the vast majority of students are below grade level. Hopefully, local school districts have made an earnest effort to make parents aware of this new opportunity and that these transfers will spur new conversations on improving student achievement in those struggling schools. We also urge higher-performing schools to embrace this new move, welcoming as many new students as they can serve and diligently working to support their learning needs.
Every Louisiana child needs a school that fits, and throughout this month, we hope many more will find one.