Without a change in policy, the state can’t require New Orleans charter schools to participate in a centralized enrollment system and other reforms proposed Tuesday to help schools better serve New Orleans’ special-needs students.
Among the changes proposed by State Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek is that all schools use a common application form, and that special-education students would be placed in a school through a central office, in part based on each student’s preference. The goal is to ensure that students are matched to schools that best serve their needs.
The reform intends to assuage concerns about charter schools cherry-picking the best students and pushing those with special needs into lower-ranked choices.
The changes, though, would have no effect on the 16 schools authorized by Orleans Parish School Board. And unless the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves new policies, the 47 charters authorized by BESE wouldn’t have to comply, either.
Of course, any of the schools could voluntarily conform to the policy.
“We are asking for cooperation at this point,” state Education Department spokeswoman Rene Greer said Wednesday.
State officials aren’t certain whether BESE would need to force compliance.
“If everyone is going to come to the table and participate, we may not need it to be policy,” said Erin Bendily, director of the state Education Department’s Office of Parental Options. The proposal comes in response to allegations that the city’s decentralized schools are not providing special-education students with legally required services.
Pastorek made the proposals Tuesday, and already they have drawn the ire of advocates who say deeper systemic change is needed.
“That centralized enrollment system is the way they been telling us it’s been happening,” said Demekia Morgan, education policy and campaign director for Families and Friends of Louisiana’a Incarcerated Children. “To me, there is no consistency to what they are saying, what they have in the plan and what actually happens.”
Pastorek also proposed creating a unit in the Department of Education specifically charged with monitoring compliance with special-needs regulations, training educators and strengthening outreach tools so parents can more easily file complaints and access resources.
Overall, the changes aim to increase oversight of charter schools.