Louisiana has moved strongly in the direction of charter schools, but too often, these public schools aren’t sufficiently serving students of all income levels.
Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued a report last week showing that 18.5% of authorized charter schools are not enrolling enough children from economically disadvantaged homes. Waguespack looked at 108 charter schools serving almost 66,000 students and found that more than 1 in 5 schools failed to meet admission rules aimed at ensuring full access at least once during the past six years.
No matter where charter schools are located, most are required to enroll at least 85% of the rate of economically disadvantaged students in those areas.
The audit indicates that compliance improved by 11 percentage points since the 2016-17 school year. Still, there is room for more improvement. In the 2021-22 school year, eight charter schools authorized by local school districts — or 11.9% — were not in compliance and three Board of Elementary and Secondary Education-authorized charter schools — or 7.5% — were not in compliance.
The charter schools that did not meet the enrollment target were generally higher-ranked schools.
The list of schools that have fallen short includes some well-known names, such as BASIS Baton Rouge, International School of Louisiana in Jefferson Parish and Lusher Charter School in New Orleans. All are locally authorized.
Also cited were BESE-approved schools such as Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Lafayette Parish, Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle Orleans in New Orleans and Madison Preparatory Academy in Baton Rouge.
There are legitimate concerns about the state law requiring the income standard for enrollment. Still, these schools play a vital role in giving all students an equal shot at the sort of good education that can set them on a path to success; attracting more students from poorer backgrounds is the best way to level the playing field and create opportunity for all.