To: The Louisiana State House and The Louisiana State Senate

Please oppose BRAC’s restructuring of EBRPSS

Please vote "No" on Senate Bills 636 & 672 and House Bills 1177 & 1178, the legislation created by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) to restructure the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS). If enacted, the BRAC bills would further segregate, privatize, and undermine the democratic governance of our schools.

Why is this important?

The "BRAC bills" should not be enacted for the following reasons:

1) SB 672 & HB 1178 dilute the representation of city residents and African-Americans.

These bills would radically reduce the number of school board members and eliminate provisions that help protect minority representation. Currently EBRPSS is comprised of 11 single-member districts. SB 672 & HB 1178 reduce the board to 6 single member districts with 1 at-large member. In addition, they eliminate the current requirement that the redistricting plan be approved by a majority of the Baton Rouge delegation as well as the stipulation that since the population of the city of Baton Rouge is more than half of the parish population, the city’s representation on the school board should be proportionate to its population. While the number of board members could be reduced (9 single member districts?) to allow for more efficient management, such a drastic reduction coupled with the elimination of protections for equitable representation would allow the board to be disproportionately influenced by voters in the unincorporated areas of the parish which are whiter and wealthier than those within Baton Rouge city limits. In short, these bills will likely dilute the voting power of city residents who are largely African-American.

2) SB 636 and HB 1177 require EBRPSS to create and manage a “common enrollment system” which does not improve but inhibits “choice.”

Common enrollment systems are promoted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), the organization which helped BRAC write the legislation, as a means of allowing for effective cooperation between traditional public school systems and charter schools. EBRPSS would be required to not only manage the system but to include charter schools in this process at no cost to the charter schools.

In New Orleans, 74 of the 85 schools participate in a common enrollment system called OneApp. There are no neighborhood schools in the decentralized system. Parents identify up to eight schools per child. The enrollment system then assigns the student to a school based upon the student’s needs and availability. Once assigned to a school, a student is expected to attend the entire year regardless of the parent’s or student’s satisfaction. If students wish to be “released” from their assigned schools after October 1st, they must petition the school board and the prospective school for permission to transfer.

How does this improve choice? It’s not clear it does, but it does guarantee charter schools a steady student population every year. And while students must seek permission to be “released” from their assigned school, the charter school administrators are not prohibited from “releasing” students at their discretion. They retain the privilege of “counseling out” or expelling students they deem unsuitable. The personal testimony of Ashana Bigard, a parent and community advocate in New Orleans, regarding the effect of New Orleans’ OneApp offers a far different perspective than that of CRPE, BRAC, and the authors of these bills (1).

3) SB 636 and HB 1177’s restrictions on the per pupil allocation jeopardize our school system’s ability to maintain specialized programs for students with disabilities and exceptionalities, wrap around services, and magnet schools.

According to the recent budget, EBRPSS spends 5.8% on administrative services compared to Jefferson Parish, a large district, which spends 9.1% and Zachary, a top rated district, which spends 6.8%. Clearly its administrative costs are not excessive. And yet, these bills require that the central administration keep no more than 3% of the per pupil amount allocated for each student. In order to comply with the mandate that the money follow the child, the remaining funds, excluding those for retirement and legacy costs, must be directed to the schools. Currently, EBRPSS is able to cut costs through economies of scale savings. (Because of its size EBRPSS is able to purchase in bulk, negotiate lower costs, and serve specialized populations more efficiently.) EBRPSS is then able to use those savings to fund schools for students with disabilities like Southdowns, magnets like BRCVPA, and wrap around services like extended day. This bill would prohibit the system from using those savings in this manner because the per pupil allocation must be directed to the school. Moreover, those savings are likely to be less if principals contract on their own because the system’s bulk purchasing power will be diminished. One of the primary advantages traditional public school systems have over charter schools is their ability to pool resources to serve the community as a whole. Rather than build upon that strength, these bills eliminate it. Once again the policies in these bills would benefit charter schools, not the children in our community.

The threat to magnet schools is especially worth noting in light of the demographic realities of our area and the limitations of charter schools. Baton Rouge is geographically segregated. Magnet schools were created to satisfy the federal desegregation order. They are the only schools in Baton Rouge that serve a diverse student body and do so especially well. The awards EBRPSS’ magnet schools and their students have received are too numerous to mention. (A study performed in Connecticut found magnet school students consistently outperformed their peers in schools with more homogeneous populations no matter the race (2). ) In stark contrast, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that charter schools are effectively resegregating public education (3). To enact policies that privilege charter schools and jeopardize the schools system’s ability to maintain magnet programs demonstrates a lack of appreciation for diversity and a tacit acceptance of the resegregation of our public schools.

4) Senate Bill 636 and House Bill 1177 will curtail the educational opportunities of children living in pover...