New Orleans' Katrina school takeover to end, Legislature decides
The Louisiana Legislature is ready to close a chapter in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina history. Both the Senate and House have voted to reverse the 2005 state takeover of most of the city's public schools.
By July 1, 2018 -- or 2019, at the latest -- 52Recovery School District charters will move back to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board, unifying the school system once more, emptying out the Recovery system in New Orleans and symbolically healing a wound torn open after the hurricane.
The measure, Senate Bill 432, squeaked out of the House Thursday (May 5) on a 55-16 vote. It needed at least 53 votes to pass. It's now headed back to the Senate briefly because of a technical change made on the House side, but that alterations is expected to be little more than a speed bump in the process.
The Senate unanimously approved essentially the same bill as the House, minus one small technical change, on April 20. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will sign the legislation once the Senate approves it again.
But the re-unified school system won't be the same as the old days. In the past decade, the Recovery system has become a realm of independent charter schools, mini-kingdoms run by non-profit, non-elected boards. Those boards will continue to reign after the transition, making their own decisions but to meet the Orleans Parish School Board's benchmarks. Currently they report to the Recovery district, which is a unit of the state Education Department, and to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The School Board won't be allowed to meddle in charters' affairs. The bill says the board may not impede charters' control of calendars, personnel, collective bargaining, contracts and curriculum, among other areas.
"For all intents and purposes, the schools will continue to function exactly as they do now," state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, told the House.
Exciting to some, the post-Katrina takeover was painful to others. Everyone agreed New Orleans schools were in deep trouble – academically, financially and politically -- even before the deep waters unleashed by the storm and the levee failures. The School Board hurt its cause after the storm by refusing to reopen schools immediately, even as some private schools and public ones in the suburbs were managing despite their losses.
As a result, the Recovery system seized four fifths of New Orleans public schools. That was all the schools that had been officially deemed failures and many that were simply scoring below the state average.
But the state seizure came from Baton Rouge, without community discussion, at New Orleans' Katrina school takeover to end, Legislature decides | NOLA.com: