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BESE dismisses special education funding issue

BESE Report – June 2015

What should have been a bombshell announcement that the State Department of Education is underfunding some charter schools with special education students while overpaying others was virtually ignored by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

At issue is the money sent from the Minimum Foundation Program to state-run Type 2 charter schools. According to documents on the DOE Web site, those have been overpaid by more than $2.5 million for special education services.

The same documents show that charter schools run by school districts have been underpaid. In New Orleans, for example, charter schools run by the local school district were underfunded by more than $1.7 million this year.

At the urging of Louisiana School Boards Association Executive Director Scott Richard, a resolution was introduced by District 3 Member Lottie Beebe to correct the discrepancy. Beebe asked the board to make sure that the miscalculations are corrected before the last MFP payment of the school year is disbursed at the end of June.

The resolution was dismissed after Superintendent John White suggested waiting until attorneys have had a chance to see how a new law will affect special education funding for charter schools.

State Representative John Bel Edwards issued a blistering press release, saying of BESE’s action, “It’s not right, it’s not legal and it’s not constitutional.”

Rep. Edwards was the House floor leader for Senator Dan Claitor’s SB 267, which requires all schools that accept special education funds actually enroll and serve those special education students.

That bill was passed after BESE failed to act on a legislative resolution adopted in 2012, urging the board to correct the problem of inequitable special education funding.

BESE sets up curriculum standards review process

Plans to tweak Louisiana’s curriculum standards came together when BESE voted to approve membership in three content committees and an oversight committee. A total of 101 reviewers, the majority of whom are classroom educators, will work on the new standards.

Working under guidelines established in three bills approved by the Legislature, the panels will write a first draft in October and November. Public comments will be taken starting next month. Open meetings will be held in each congressional district, and a final draft will be presented to BESE in February.

BESE will vote on the proposed standards, and then present them to the Legislature for final approval. The next governor will give the new standards an up-or-down decision.

BESE gives John White his best rating yet

Superintendent of Education John White was handed the best report card of his tenure in Louisiana when BESE, after meeting in executive session, rated him a 3.3 on a 4.0 scale.

In previous years, White’s score was 3.0 and 3.15.

The board gave White a score of 2.8 on quantitative goals, meaning the performance of students in the state, and a whopping 3.8 on qualitative measures of his leadership and management skills. The 3.3 score gives White a rating of “proficient.”

Troubled charter school ordered to report improvements by August

A Jefferson Parish charter school with a troubled history was ordered to conduct an audit and prove to BESE in August that it meets financial, academic and organizational standards.

BESE has come close to revoking the charter for Milestone Academy before. The school barely escaped closure last winter after it cancelled its contract with Sabis, a for-profit company that charged $465,000 per year to run the school.

After being chartered for over a decade, the school was never able to get a grade higher than “D” on the state’s scale. Earlier this month, the school’s interim chief executive resigned and the principal barely survived an attempt to fire her.

On a motion by District 1 Member Jim Garvey, BESE directed the Department of Education to conduct an independent audit of Milestone Academy’s board policies, practices and procedures. The department must recommend improvements to ensure compliance with academic, financial and organizational performance and report back to the board at its August meeting.

In other business, BESE gave a Jefferson Parish charter school with campuses on both sides of the river permission to move one location and expand another.

The Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy is an alternative charter school. The board gave the school permission to move its Metairie campus to the St. Agnes Roman Catholic School site, which has been closed. BESE also gave the school permission to add 150 students to its Harvey location, which has a waiting list, by 2018.

The school had to move from its former Metairie site on North Causeway Boulevard because the University of New Orleans sold the building and the new owner did not renew the academy’s lease.