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Quick Take: An All-New Low For The Louisiana Federation of Teachers LFT Opposes An Innovative Charter School Serving At-Risk Kids

It has long been clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) does not work in the best interests of students. After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in an attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.

But LFT’s current effort to scuttle funding for a charter school serving at-risk students represents an all-time low for the union.

Last week, LFT launched an online petition calling on Governor John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 887, a proposal from Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), that would allow a Baton Rouge charter school, THRIVE Academy, to become an independent public school under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.

East Baton Rouge teacher Sarah Broome launched THRIVE Academy in 2011 after one of her young students was killed in a violent street fight. Broome recognized that the student’s chaotic home life put her on a path that ended in that unfortunate tragedy and wanted to create a school that could meet the needs of at-risk students both in and out of the classroom.

Therefore, Broome established THRIVE as a charter boarding school – the first of its kind in the state – where students live together during the week and are expected to participate in activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and budgeting. THRIVE also provides the 110 students it currently serves with individualized attention in small classes led by high-performing teachers.

By almost every measure, the school has been a success. Not only is THRIVE one of the highest-performing middle schools in East Baton Rouge, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the entire district.

Nevertheless, THRIVE has had to depend on the generosity of funders to cover the added costs that come with boarding students – an approach that has worked thus far, but leaves the school vulnerable to the whims of donors. To ensure the long-term financial stability of the school, Broome worked with Rep. Carter to craft House Bill 887 to make THRIVE a legislatively-authorized independent public school, much like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

As a legislatively-authorized school, THRIVE would be able to enroll students who live outside East Baton Rouge Parish. It would also allow the Legislature to allocate additional funding to THRIVE – approximately $23,714 per child – to fully cover the costs of the program.

6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.
6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.

House Bill 887 received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – in fact, Senators passed the bill unanimously – and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an organization which always claims it works in the best interests of kids, wants the Governor to veto the bill, which would deprive hundreds of our state’s most vulnerable children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow.

That’s not only wrong, that’s despicable.

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.

37 Comments

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  1. My question is: why is it ok for Thrive to pull funds from EBR’s current public schools? The district is already in dire straits. You’ve explained why they need the funds but not why they should take the funds from current students.

    • Have you read the actual law? Districts (i.e., superintendents) have to agree to send a child from their district to the school. Their MFP funding follows the student. EBR won’t be paying for students enrolled in THRIVE from other districts. Also, the school will be funded from both the MFP money and by appropriations from the Legislature. Finally, THRIVE is small – the school has 110 students this year and will have 140 students this coming year. This isn’t going to make or break the EBR school district.

      • I apologize for the wording. I will clarify. I should have asked… although the money is following the students who enroll in Thrive, will other students come to fill their spots? If not, it does equate to a loss since funds will not be given to those schools to replace the MFP funding. Also, I’m quite certain student enrollment will not stay at 140. The vision of Thrive is to expand to encompass grades 6th-12th.

        • I would disagree with the perspective that it equates to a “loss” necessarily. Schools get MFP funding based on the number of students enrolled. If a student leaves a traditional district school to go to THRIVE, their old school no longer has the costs that they would incur if the child was still enrolled. That’s especially true when you consider THRIVE serves some of the highest-need students in EBR, who are generally more costly for schools/districts when you take into account the extra services needed to meet their needs. You’re correct that THRIVE is growing. When I recently spoke to THRIVE’s founder, she told me that the school ultimately intended to serve approximately 350 students, or about 0.8% of all students enrolled in EBR schools – i.e., a minuscule number when considering how many kids EBRPSS serves. However, the actual percentage will be lower, since THRIVE will now be able to enroll students from the surrounding districts.

          • Though the schools will no longer have expenses related to those students, their budgets are still dependent on student enrollment. If increasing student enrollment and a larger budget weren’t related, Thrive would not need more money to finance its own expenses. As stated in the article below, the districts are competing for funds with charters.
            http://theadvocate.com/news/1430
            8938-123/budget-cuts-coming-again-to-east-baton-rouge-schools-conflicting-signals-as-to-how-deep

            I can see both sides of the argument, having worked with Thrive and EBR. I think people who don’t support the law are justified in wanting to keep funds in their district.

  2. “After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.”

    You assume that being anti-Common Core, anti-charter, and anti-testing are “on the wrong side.” Is it really a wonder why most teachers would be against bad and restrictive curriculums, a dual-funded school system that is effectively an effort to privatize public education, and “accountability” which really means narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the test, and punishing teachers/schools based on false measurements…?

    Perhaps YOU’RE on the wrong side.

    I wonder if these so-called “reformers” ever consider how much it hurts thousands and thousands of children to drain funding for public education into charters and other “reform” efforts — but these noble reformers don’t seem to care when children, families, and communities are harmed in this way — as long as their personal agenda is met, we can say that we are doing good things for the childrens.

    It must be the evil teacher unions at it again! All those evil teachers who want to do bad things for the children, and the entrepreneur/pseudo-philanthropists only want good things! Shame on the teachers for wanting to preserve public education — let’s spin that and present only one side of the issue.

    • If you’re going to defend LFT’s efforts to deny funding for a school that provides a literal lifeline to some of the highest-need kids out there, then you’ve already proven that I’m on the right side. Thanks for your rant.

  3. Plus, when you consider that the Department of Child and Family Services has seen its budget cut 40% over the past eight years under Jindal, the simple fact is this school is a lifeline for the kids lucky enough to attend because there are no services out there to help families get back on the right track.

  4. I just spoke this week with a friend who works in drug court. This sort of intervention is a huge savings over the cost of imprisonment. Not only that, but such an intervention may have a collatoral effect, where a legacy of criminal behaviour may be broken, a “first high school graduate” may emerge and lead future generations out of poverty and criminality.

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