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Quick Take: Kathy Riedlinger’s Pre-Emptive Strike Lusher Officials Exaggerate Impact of Changes to Funding Formula

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Dear Lusher Parents: No, the sky is not falling.

Contrary to what you might have read on Saturday in the Uptown Messenger, Lusher is not about to be pushed off the edge of a $1.2 million fiscal cliff. Lawmakers in Baton Rouge have not conspired to punish New Orleans with a law all its own. And no, the impending funding change is not going to put Lusher at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring new faculty.

Here are the actual facts about the funding change:

1. Why is the school funding formula changing?

The school funding formula is changing as a result of Act 467 (originally S.B. 267), authored by State Senator Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and signed into law by Governor Jindal on July 1st.


Senate Bill 267

Provides relative to charter school funding. Filed By: Sen. Dan Claitor – E-mail Abstract: Charter School Enrollment of At-Risk Pupils Present law (R.S. 17:3973(1) defines “at-risk pupil” as any pupil about whom at least one of the following is true: (1) Is eligible to participate in the federal free or reduced lunch program.


Act 467 makes changes to charter school enrollment requirements and the state’s school funding formula – the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) – to address concerns raised by some superintendents (not New Orleans) that Type 2 (BESE authorized, new/conversion) charters in their districts were serving a lower proportion of special needs students than traditional schools, but received an equal share of the district’s MFP funds.

Of course, since most of New Orleans’ public schools are Type 5 (Recovery School District takeovers) charter schools, this situation does not apply. Therefore, the law called for the creation of a committee of representatives from the RSD, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS), and special education leaders tasked with hammering out a unified funding formula for all public schools in Orleans Parish.

The agreed upon formula must be submitted to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval in March 2016 and will go into effect on July 1, 2016.

2. Why don’t New Orleans schools already have a common funding formula?

OPSB and RSD currently use different formulas to allocate MFP funds.

OPSB uses the formula used by the rest of the state, which was created to fund schools in a traditional, centralized school district. However, this funding formula doesn’t work well for a decentralized, all-charter district like the RSD. Therefore, the RSD created an innovative school funding formula that takes into account the added costs of educating students with special needs.

For example, an RSD charter currently receives nearly $22,000 more than the standard per-pupil amount for a student whose Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requires a full-time paraprofessional. On the other hand, a student whose IEP simply requires an hour of speech therapy each week receives only $1500 extra. In short, the RSD’s differentiated formula allows charters to serve any special needs child who enrolls without putting the school in the red. [Read this report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education for more details on the RSD’s funding approach.]

No one is trying to put a $1.2 million dent in Lusher's budget next year.

No one is trying to put a $1.2 million dent in Lusher’s budget next year.

3. So why is Lusher going to lose $1.2 million in funds?

This is where the misinformation comes in. First of all, no decision has been made regarding the new funding formula. The committee working on the new formula has met a few times already and is scheduled to meet several more times before the formula must be submitted to BESE in March.

Second, the committee is working to find a compromise solution that retains the equitable funding approach of the RSD without imposing painful costs on schools as a result of the change. No one is trying to put a $1.2 million hole in Lusher’s budget.

That being said, because Lusher serves a disproportionately small percentage of special needs students, it is likely that Lusher will receive less money under a formula that takes into account the added costs of providing special needs services. However, it’s safe to say that Lusher won’t see their funds cut by $1.2 million next year.

RSD's differentiated funding formula has allowed schools like Sci Academy, above, to serve students with significant disabilities.

RSD’s differentiated funding formula has allowed schools like Sci Academy, above, to serve students with significant disabilities.

4. Then why are Kathy Riedlinger and other Lusher officials saying the school is going lose a ton of money?

My assumption is that Kathy Riedlinger, et al., are making alarmist statements to get Lusher’s (influential and powerful) base of parents fired up, thereby giving Kathy added leverage as the committee decides on the new funding formula.

While it may be a clever strategy from Lusher’s standpoint, it only adds confusion to the conversation about how we’re going to fund the city’s schools. Furthermore, it makes the RSD’s differentiated funding approach, which represents a huge step forward for a city that previously left special needs students woefully underserved, into a contentious issue.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Charters

Dear Board Members… An Open Letter To The Arkansas State Board Of Education

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On January 15th, I sent a letter to the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to bring their attention to the troubling revelations about Einstein Charter Schools that have emerged over the past several months.

Last fall, the State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein to open a new charter school in Little Rock after Einstein officials assured board members that they would provide transportation to students. This was the same promise they made to the Orleans Parish School Board last year as part of their charter renewal agreement. As we now know, they cannot be be taken at their word.

For some reason, I never received a response from anyone on the board. Therefore, I’ve decided to publish my original letter, which I’ve reproduced in full below.


Dear Board Members,

In September, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved a proposal from Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans to open a new K-3 school in Little Rock School District. Today, I am writing to urge you to reconsider that decision in light of a series of troubling revelations about Einstein that have emerged here in New Orleans in the intervening months.

On September 19th, just five days after SBOE approved Einstein’s charter application, the Orleans Parish School Board issued an official notice of non-compliance [see notice here] to Einstein’s CEO and board president for failing to provide bus transportation to students as required by the terms of their charter. District officials became aware of this breach-of-contract after a parent reported that Einstein had refused to provide yellow bus service for her two children (5 and 10 years old) and instead offered them public transit tokens. News reports subsequently revealed that Einstein had been refusing to provide bus transportation to dozens of students.

Six weeks later, on November 7th, Einstein was issued another notice of non-compliance [see notice here] by the Orleans Parish School Board for enrolling 26 students outside of OneApp, the city-wide enrollment system that assigns students to New Orleans’ public schools. In fact, the notice indicates that district officials previously investigated enrollment violations at Einstein in 2016 and had told administrators that the charter network needed to implement internal systems and procedures to ensure they were in compliance with the OneApp process.

These are serious violations that undermine the systems we have established to ensure that all children – regardless of race, socio-economic background, or disability status – have fair and equal access to our public schools. Since Hurricane Katrina, all of the city’s open enrollment schools – both charter and traditional – have been required to provide free bus transportation to children in pre-K through sixth grade, no matter where they live in the city. Moreover, the Orleans Parish School Board renewed Einstein’s charter last year on the condition that school provide transportation to its students.

In 2012, district officials launched OneApp to simplify the enrollment process by allowing parents to fill out only one application in which they rank schools in order of preference. These preferences are then fed into an algorithm developed by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, which in turn, assigns students to schools. OneApp ensures that schools cannot engage in so-called “creaming” or turn away students with disabilities. All schools are required to participate in OneApp and all are prohibited from enrolling students outside of the system.

Nevertheless, Einstein’s leaders have responded to the school board’s warnings with outright defiance. As a result, the district is now seeking a court order to force Einstein to comply with the busing requirement. According to The Lens, a local non-profit news outlet, Einstein CEO Shawn Toranto responded to the OneApp non-compliance notice with a letter stating they had “simply accepted children whose parents had chosen one of its schools — a hallmark of the charter movement.” She has also taken to the pages of the New Orleans Advocate in an unconvincing attempt to deflect criticism of the school, as if the rules should not apply to them.

Finally, I want to make something very clear: I am outspoken supporter of charter schools. As a former charter school board member and teacher, I have seen the impact that high-quality charters can have on the lives of children. At the same time, I also firmly believe that charter schools are only successful when they adhere to clear operational and academic standards. Given their blatant disregard for the terms of their charter contracts in New Orleans (and the possibility that they could lose their charter if they continue to defy the district), I would once again urge you to reconsider Einstein’s expansion to Little Rock.

If you would like to read more about Einstein’s charter violations:

Otherwise, thank you for your time and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Peter C. Cook
New Orleans, LA

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Charters

All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers

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For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.

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Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-02.52.38
Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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