The New Orleans’s Recovery School District shut down its last five public schools for good this week. Next fall the district will become the first in the nation to be made up entirely of public charter schools.
The district took over the majority of New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By now it has closed or chartered every single school it reopened, the Times-Picayune reports.
Charter schools receive public funding but are operated independently by private boards, who are not accountable to taxpayers. The rise of the charter system has brought up concerns about racial and class inequality in New Orleans as well as concerns about parents losing their voice in their child’s education.
“They don’t answer to anyone,” said Sean Johnson, the dean of students at Benjamin Banneker Elementary, one of the five public schools shut down this week. “The charters have money and want to make more money. They have their own boards, make their own rules, accept who they want and put out who they want to put out.”
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The district employs 600 people and 510 of them were out of a job this week. The 33,000 students in the district must apply to be placed at one of 58 charter schools. The schools will use a computerized lottery system to determine acceptance, according to the Washington Post.
“This is a depressed community,” said Karran Harper Royal, an activist who opposes the school closures. “People here don’t really feel like they can coalesce and fight this.”
Instead of walking kids to a neighborhood school, kids will be bused all over the city.
“This don’t make no sense,” said Derrick Williams, who recently walked his great-niece to kindergarten. “Me and my sister, the whole family, the whole neighborhood went to that school.”
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Advocates say the charter system gives parents more choices.
“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” Neerav Kingsland, of New Schools for New Orleans, told The Post. “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.”
Kingsland is taking the show on the road to promote the charter model in other cities.
Louisiana has a long history of anti-education policies. Measures to defund public education and give taxpayer money to private schools through the use of vouchers, have long been popular, although the constitutionality of those measures has repeatedly stopped them from being implemented.