Louisiana Supreme Court case illustrates shortcomings of charter schools

The Louisiana Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal regarding charter school funding on March 13. The lower court’s ruling held that 35 charter schools did not qualify as public schools and, thus, were not entitled to state aid. The contentious case, in which funding for 18,000 students hung in the balance, clearly demonstrates the adverse effects introduced by the charter school system.

Charter schools are frequently touted as a panacea for the problems of America’s faltering school system. Per the Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. ranked 38th in mathematics and 24th in both science and reading out of 71 countries in 2017. The U.S. received these rankings despite spending $12,296 per elementary and secondary public school student per year on average, a higher sum than all but two other nations. Charter schools, by combining market competition with autonomous control, have thus emerged as an attractive alternative to America’s ailing public school system.

The effects of charter schools are, however, largely ambiguous. Some districts, like those in Michigan, have seen public school systems devastated by the loss of revenue resulting from an expanding charter school presence. New Orleans, alternatively, has seen state exam passage rates and scores alike go up even with a large charter school presence.

The court’s decision to reaffirm the right of charter schools to receive state funding maintains the illusion that charter schools are simply public schools by another name. Authorized by Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the 35 schools involved in the dispute are not under the jurisdiction of local school boards. Nonetheless, per the court’s decision, Louisiana law has “expressed that charter schools are independent public schools.”

“Independent public schools,” however, is a description that misrepresents the definition of charter schools. Up to 90 percent of the funding these schools receive is state aid, so these charter schools are not independently funded. These schools cannot be considered public entities either because they are removed from the control of local polities.

In the case of New Orleans, the proliferation of charter schools has come at a cost. According to the New York Times, unionized black teachers were fired to make way for a younger batch of educators. Furthermore, local charters consistently reported a lower enrollment number of special needs students, suggesting that these schools engage in “creaming” or “selecting … out students based on their expected performance on standardized tests.”

Regardless of their appeal, charter schools undeniably contribute to the formation of two separate yet unequal school systems, depriving one of resources used to bolster the other. As the recent court case suggests, this creates overlapping jurisdictions, competition for funds and inequitable educational outcomes. Charter schools may be advantageous to some, but, ultimately, they cannot address the educational needs of all.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Nketiah is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]