The head of Louisiana’s charter school association has criticized U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s opposition to a bill that would funnel more than $300 million in federal grants to charters around the country.
The bill, dubbed the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support May 9. It has been referred to a Senate committee; a similar bill also has been introduced in the Senate.
Under the House bill, state education agencies, governors, state charter boards and charter-school support organizations could act as conduits for federal grants, passing the money on to schools.
The bill would would prioritize grants in states such as Louisiana, which don’t limit the number of charter schools and allow entities other than local school districts to authorize charters.
Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, criticized Richmond for voting against the bill when his district has so many charter schools. She cited a report, released Thursday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, that ranked New Orleans third on a list of 25 charter-dominated congressional districts around the country.
“I was disappointed,” Shirley said. “We need to get him in some classrooms, and help him understand what we are doing.”
She said her organization doesn’t plan to apply for the new funds. It, along with other nonprofits such as New Schools for New Orleans, already can apply for such grants because it works with multiple schools.
Richmond, D-New Orleans, was in the minority — and the only congressman in the state — in voting against the bill.
In response to Shirley’s comments, his office issued a statement saying the bill fell short in several areas.
Schools operate better, according to Richmond, “when they are accountable to the parents and taxpayers, ensure equal access to all of our children, and operate in a manner that is transparent.
“We must remember that charter schools are public schools and we must hold them to equal standards.”
Democrats offered several amendments requiring more accountability of charters, such as asking them to foster community involvement and requiring them to publish information about suspensions and expulsions.
Shirley herself has advocated for charter school accountability and criticized schools that fall short. Her organization offers governance training to charter school boards.
Those efforts haven’t completely stopped schools from breaking state Open Meetings laws, however.
Some New Orleans charters have also come under fire for their discipline and enrollment policies.
Critics say the discipline codes at one New Orleans charter school group, Collegiate Academies, lead to more students being kicked out of school. The country’s two leading teacher unions have also alleged that some schools discriminate against black students because they don’t participate in the city’s common enrollment process.