Roemer Shirley: Charter schools about choice, innovation and accountability

By By Lance Traweek / American Press

There is a lot of misinformation and tension surrounding charter schools in Louisiana, Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive

director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, told the American Press editorial board on Tuesday.

She said the truth is that charter schools are about choice, innovation and accountability.

Only two of the states 120 charter

schools are in Lake Charles — Lake Charles Charter Academy and Southwest

Louisiana Charter

Academy. The law was first put into place in 1995 under Gov. Mike

Foster. Charter schools began as a pilot initiative, which

has “morphed into something else,” Shirley said.

Currently, there is no cap on the number of charter schools that can be opened in the state, but she said she’s not looking

at having an overabundance of them. Charter schools serve 55,000 students statewide.

“What really blew open the doors, obviously, was following Hurricane Katrina when the state changed the recovery school district

law to be from taking one failing school to the ability to take over an entire failing district,” Shirley said.

Orleans and Jefferson parishes have the highest number — 84 charter schools.

“The bottom line to us is that public

education has become a monopoly by the districts, and sometimes it’s

good to bring competition

into an area,” Shirley said. “We think it forces everyone to think

outside of the box, be more innovative and be more responsive

to their customer — the students.”

She said there have been many opponents of charter schools, adding that most of the resentment stems from public money going

to charter schools.

In 2011-2012, the Calcasieu Parish School Board transferred $2.5 million to the charter schools. For the 2014-15 school year,

there is a projected transfer of $7.5 million.

“When (districts) say, ‘Well, charter schools are taking kids and funneling money away from the districts,’ my first thought,

again, always goes back to the monopoly. Don’t give me that argument,” Shirley said. “That would be like you’re McDonald’s

and Burger King comes and you say, ‘Well, no, we’re making good burgers, no need for other burgers.’ That is just stupid.

“Again, you’re not teaching those kids anymore, so why should you be getting the money,” Shirley said. “They’re not in your

building. Instead, what we’re paying for is decisions of the past.”

Charter schools are about choice and the ability to operate as closely to the student as possible, she said.

“We set our own curriculum, we manage

our budgets and we have our own governing system outside of a

traditional school board,”

Shirley said. “All charter schools have a nonprofit, volunteer

board that make decisions around the mission of the school.”

She said the structure of the charter schools removes a lot of the red tape of political bureaucracies that she thinks “can

hamper a traditional system.”

Shirley does not believe charter schools will become a “threat to the traditional system,” but she would like superintendents

and school boards to “see charter schools as another option for parents and to embrace it and learn from them.”