Potential Course Choice ‘loophole’ concerns Ben Franklin leaders

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Benjamin Franklin High School leaders are concerned about preserving the integrity of the selective-admission charter school’s diploma in the face of changes stemming from Louisiana’s new Course Choice program.

“We are ready to apply for Course Choice and be a provider,” CEO Tim Rusnak said to the school’s board of directors Thursday.

But Rusnak has concerns about the program’s potential impact on Franklin.

“The other issue is much more important and much more threatening,” Rusnak warned.

Course Choice is designed to offer students at low-performing schools the opportunity to take courses through high-performing schools. Students also may enroll in courses that are not offered at their schools, such as a unique language class or higher level course.

That “loophole,” Rusnak said, could allow Franklin students to pay to take a course at another school and import their grade back to Franklin.

Rusnak said “kids that can afford it”  can take courses elsewhere, “and they’re not Franklin courses.” He said that threatens the culture and the integrity of the Franklin diploma.

With course load limits undetermined, Rusnak said, it is unclear how many courses a non-Franklin student could take at Franklin. For example, he said, a home-school student theoretically could enroll in an entire course load of Franklin classes.

This won’t be an issue this year as Franklin plans to only offer one course when the school applies to be a provider under Course Choice. However, it could be a problem in future years if the school offers additional courses, Rusnak said.

Franklin can apply to be a provider of Course Choice in the 2014-2015 school year, according to Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education.

While Rusnak said courses would cost about $1,000, Landry said they are projected to cost $800.

Rusnak said Franklin would receive that money as a provider, and Landry confirmed that tuition for Course Choice courses would be paid to the provider of the course.

“Course providers will receive 50% of the tuition up front and the remaining 50% when a student has successfully completed the course on time,” Landry wrote in an email to The Lens on Friday.

The question of who pays the tuition is determined by the status of the students’ school. If they are in a failing school, the state pays tuition, Landry said. Students who attend A and B schools however, would have to pay to take a course their school offered from a Course Choice provider.

Rusnak said at this point he doesn’t know how or if courses that Franklin students take at other schools would be weighted when transferred back to the school.

“We think that this is a loophole that should be closed,” said Rusnak, adding that he is working with other “A” school leaders.

“We think if you’re an A school, you take the courses at the A school.”

Rusnak said that though he thinks the program is well-intentioned, it is something he thinks could damage the school “pretty severely.”

Franklin initially had two students sign up for Course Choice, one by mistake, Rusnak said, but neither decided to follow through with the course. The other student wanted to take Japanese, which Franklin does not offer.

“We’re concerned about the implications in the future,” he said of the program. “We want to stop this before it begins.”

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