Parents outraged as New Orleans votes to become the first major city in America with an all charter school system
According to Nola.com, the Orleans Parish School board voted 5-2 to establish InspireNOLA Charter Schools as the operator of McDonough 35 Senior High School, which was established in 1917 as the first Black public school in New Orleans. This vote makes New Orleans the first major city in America with a charter school exclusive school system, but the measure is not popular among the residents of Orleans Parish who spoke out against the passage of this vote at the community meeting.
According to Big Easy Magazine, community members like Alexander LaForge, who is the parent of an elementary school child enrolled at Nelson Elementary School, are not happy with the school board’s choice to make the school system charter school only. LaForge told the magazine, “The word choice is the operative word in the organization of charter school systems. That has been negated. That is no longer there. There is no choice. Parents are in an uproar. Parents are concerned, as they should be because parents know the value of an education.” He added, “We’ve elected Orleans Parish School Board, and we’ve invested our trust in them to hope they would stand for a good cause, and represent us well. That is just not the case… I give to you the word accountability. There is none.”
An anonymous representative of the local Orleans Parish chapter of the NAACP also told Big Easy Magazine that the school board is out of touch with the demands and the will of the community: “First we allowed you guys to take our schools during Katrina to help out for a minute and then afterward, this was a failed education system, so now… it’s just a money grab… this money grab has got to stop.” They continued, “We’re asking that the state put a moratorium on charter schools.”
According to the Washington Post, in the years following Hurricane Katrina, there has been a steady swallowing up of the public school system in New Orleans, which has coincided with the steady elimination of majority Black administration and faculty. However, these changes to the school system have not resulted in any significant changes for the education level of the students it is supposed to serve. As Valerie Strauss notes, the charter schools have only produced a marginal improvement in the New Orleans school system, registering a 26% mastery rate on the state standardized testing for its students (the state average is at 34%).
As the Huffington Post notes, the NAACP has criticized the direction of the school system in New Orleans before. In 2017, the group released a statement detailing a litany of issues: “Transparency is a problem. The State of Louisiana has been withholding basic school data about economic disadvantage and language issues until a recent court decision made it public. There have been problems with lack of compliance with Open Meetings Law even into 2017. The overall whiteness of the education reform movement in New Orleans, which has been pointed out by scholars, was also criticized at the NAACP forum. The authorization process for starting charter schools has been criticized by African Americans in New Orleans as actively working to keep local African Americans from operating charter schools.”
A much more troubling sentiment was expressed to Big Easy Magazine by Belden “Noonie Man” Baptiste, which falls in line with many members of the community’s voiced concerns at the meeting that the conditions of the city’s charter schools are conducive to the school to prison pipeline: “There’s a money thing, and I want to say the prisoner pipeline because if they don’t educate our children, our children can go into the world, and nine out of ten go to prison… To me, the charter system and the jail work together.”