The Orleans Parish School Board could move as soon as Tuesday toward suing the state over its private-school voucher program. The board is also expected to announce whether it plans to adopt and manage the Recovery School District’s OneApp process, which is meant to streamline student enrollment applications.
Board members tentatively approved two resolutions Thursday regarding the lawsuit and the way student applications are managed; however, neither can be ratified until Tuesday’s meeting of the full board.
The statewide Scholarships for Educational Excellence program, which pays for students at low-performing public schools to go to private schools, passed in the Louisiana State Legislature last month along with other controversial education reforms. The Orleans Parish School Board and other districts across the state have protested the move, saying that the program unfairly draws funding away from public school districts. Critics have also said that it’s unconstitutional for public dollars to go to private schools, many of which have religious affiliations.
State officials, however, have repeatedly argued that the money should follow the student. Jindal’s office has said that the private schools themselves won’t get local tax dollars.
Still, interim Superintendent Stan Smith said the voucher program could cause the district’s per-pupil funding to drop by as much as $200. Orleans Parish could be hit harder than other school districts when the program goes into effect because of the high numbers of low-income students attending low-performing schools, board member Brett Bonin said.
“We hope to join the many districts across the state that opposes this law,” said Bonin. “And can only hope our presence makes many more districts join in so it will be big enough to become a class-action lawsuit.”
The School Board’s bid to join the RSD’s OneApp enrollment process could lift a major burden off the backs of parents in the district, who often have to keep track of several different application processes and deadlines when maneuvering through the New Orleans charter school system.
However, while the Orleans Parish School Board appears to be interested in participating with the OneApp program at this time, long-term plans still indicate that district leaders want to “facilitate a transition from multi-agency control of enrollment for Orleans Parish students to a process managed by the Orleans Parish School Board,” according to district documents.
It’s not clear how OPSB control over enrollment would fly with RSD officials.
The Orleans Parish School Board resolution also declares that the RSD “should cease to exist in the future,” and that schools should eventually return to local control.
The Orleans Parish School Board lost control of all but a handful of schools when the state-run RSD took over after Hurricane Katrina.
Under the original agreement, the RSD, governed by the Louisiana Department of Education, was designed to turn around failing schools and turn them back over to the OPSB. More than six years later, not one school has seen governance returned to local control.