in , , , ,

Check Your Privilege Lusher Officials Stoke Fears Over Proposed Funding Formula

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that called out Lusher Charter School officials for making misleading, alarmist claims about an upcoming change to their school funding formula. Now, unfortunately, it appears that Lusher officials have decided to take their misinformation campaign a step further.

On Monday, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger and Board President Blaine LeCesne sent an email to parents that reiterated their exaggerated claim that Lusher will lose $1.2 million when the new funding formula is adopted. Moreover, this “Parent Call to Action” urged parents to write members of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to demand that they walk back the new funding plan. [See full text of email below]

A Brief Recap…

Up to now, RSD and OPSB have used different formulas to allocate funds to their respective schools. OPSB has used the statewide funding formula, which works for a traditional school district, but not so much for the decentralized, majority-charter districts that we have in New Orleans.

Recognizing this fact, RSD adopted its own innovative approach several years ago, which allocates funds based on a weighted formula that more accurately reflects the added costs of serving children with special needs, English Language Learners, at-risk and overage students, etc.

Statewide funding formula (top) vs. RSD's formula.
Statewide funding formula (top) vs. RSD’s formula.

Not only does this approach make sense, but it was necessary since the RSD is an open-enrollment district where schools are required to serve any student who chooses to enroll. Moreover, because the Recovery School District serves a disproportionate number of the city’s special education, ELL, at-risk, and overage students, it needed to ensure that schools had the financial capacity to serve those children.

The RSD serves a disproportionate number of the city's highest-need students.
The RSD serves a disproportionate number of the city’s highest-need students.

This past summer, Governor Jindal signed Act 467 into law, which created a committee of representatives from the RSD, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS), and special education community, tasked with hammering out a unified funding formula for all public schools in New Orleans. The committee must submit the new formula for approval by BESE in March and will go into effect on July 1st. [More background on why the funding formula is changing is available here.]

Lusher’s New Low…

Over the years, I have tried to give Lusher officials the benefit of the doubt, however the letter sent out by Riedlinger and LeCesne on Monday validates what many have said about school’s leadership over the years: They take public funds, but want to play by their own rules.

Monday’s letter claims that as a result of the new funding formula, Lusher “will lose more than $1,277,000 annually in addition to the $400,000 reduction we received this school year, and in total is 11.65% of Lusher’s operating budget.” It also later asserts, “Historically successful schools’ budgets are being gutted to fund historically underperforming & mismanaged schools under the guise that the successful schools educate ‘privileged’ students.”

As I’ve stated before, neither of these claims are true. In reality, the proposed changes are not only fair, they’re generous considering the fact that Lusher serves a disproportionately small number of the city’s highest need students. For example, the latest version of the funding formula:

  • Explicitly phases-in the funding change over several years
  • Ensures that no school will see their budget cut by more than 2% a year
  • Does not account for increases in local revenue, which have risen over the past several years, and would further reduce any negative impact on school budgets

There’s also another important factor that makes Riedlinger and LeCesne’s ominous warning all the more ridiculous: Lusher officials are currently sitting on a $20 million fund balance.

Yes, you read that correctly: Lusher has $20 million in the bank right now.

But what’s worse, in my estimation, is Riedlinger and LeCesne’s obnoxious assertion that their budget would be “gutted to fund historically underperforming & mismanaged schools” simply because Lusher serves “privileged students.” It’s an attempt to rally parents by stoking the race/class fears and resentments that our community has grappled with over its long history and it’s disgraceful.

It also ignores the fact that Lusher primarily serves students from privileged families because Kathy Riedlinger & Co. have made every effort to ensure they can pick-and-choose who they want. Not only do students have to test into the Lower School, but they impose other admissions requirements that serve as barriers to low-income families seeking admission. For example, until recently, Lusher has resisted joining OneApp and the school still doesn’t provide free transportation to students who live across town.

There’s also Lusher’s legally questionable admissions policy that states that parents who withhold “information concerning known or suspected special education needs” may invalidate their child’s application. (Of course, how exactly Lusher would determine whether a parent intentionally withheld their child’s disability status is unclear, but it certainly creates an opening for Lusher to reject applicants deemed “undesirable”.)

Screenshot of the application instructions on Lusher's website.
Screenshot of the application instructions on Lusher’s website.

All of this is to say that Lusher has enjoyed – and will continue to enjoy – a privileged position among the city’s public schools because of its selective admissions policies, its relationship with Tulane University, and its location, among other factors. That’s not going to change as a result of the proposed funding changes. The new formula (which, by the way, most OPSB schools are onboard with) is not class warfare by other means. No one is trying to ruin Lusher and it’s disingenuous of Kathy Riedlinger and Blaine LeCesne to portray it that way.

Act 467 presented an opportunity for educators and community members to come together to develop a new funding formula that incorporates the equitable funding approach used in the RSD, without imposing painful cuts on schools as a result of the change. Lusher officials should stop trying to derail that process.

Written by Peter Cook

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.


Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You can encrypt your comment so that only Peter Cook can read it.

The Problem With Independent Authorizers

A Failing Grade for Takeover District Critics