Lycée parents complain to BESE about pricey fees for tutoring

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The school offers an immersion program in French. photo: The Lens

Parents complained today before the state’s top education board that they had to pay a $250 application fee to enroll their children in Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orleans, the French-immersion charter school, and upwards of $150 a week to get them extra tutoring.

They also complained to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the school had not done enough to recruit and retain minority students.

Parents deemed the enrollment fee unnecessary and said that the school had promised it would provide tutoring free of charge. Lycée board president Jean Montes said the school offered its students summer tutoring free of charge, but didn’t directly answer State Superintendent John White’s inquiry into whether the school charged for after-school tutoring.

With Montes’ and the parents making contradictory statements, White told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that his staff would look into the issue.

The issue of charter schools charging fees for student services isn’t new. In a 2011 survey by The Lens, at least 30 of 44 schools, most of them chartered, indicated that they charge parents some type of fee for enrichment, supplemental course material or other services.

Critics of fees say they deter lower-income families from applying for admission. School leaders say the fees make it possible to offer an educational experience that goes above and beyond the state’s basic program at a time of stagnant funding and rising costs.

The state Department of Education has said that, while it is illegal for a public school to charge an attendance fee of any kind, fees for supplemental services are acceptable, as long as the school makes clear to parents that payment is voluntary.

During the proceedings on Tuesday,  Lycée parents Nadia Casimir and Dana Connelly both spoke of paying fees that they felt were pricey.

Casimir said she was told that French tutoring for her child would cost $150 a week.

Montes said that the summer French tutoring program was free. “There’s a disconnect here,” he said. When White asked if Lycée charged parents for after-school tutoring, Montes said only that the after-school program offers more than what the traditional school day offers.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill raised other issues, including whether Lycée’s enrollment is sufficiently diverse. White praised the school for conducting an outreach campaign and said that the school’s percentage of minority students was increasing.

Board president Penny Dastugue said White agreed to look into the school’s practices and report back. The state board will raise the issue again at its meeting as a Committee of the Whole with the Recovery School District.

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