Rumors of Death Premature: Portfolio Management Still Alive and Kicking in New Orleans by Paul Hill

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Power Panther, New Orleans Saints cheerleaders, and The Original Royal Players Brass Band join Orleans Parish students to celebrate healthy school meals and the presentation of Healthier US School Challenge awards on Aug. 20, 2012. Twelve elementary schools in the Orleans Parish, LA achieved gold with distinction awards. The Healthier US School Challenge is a voluntary certification initiative that recognizes schools for their efforts in improving food and beverage offerings, teaching kids about nutritious food choices and being physically active, providing opportunities for physical activity, and having supportive school wellness policies. USDA photo by Terri Romine-Ortega.

Can the portfolio strategy in New Orleans still fog a mirror, or is it dead as Jay Greene has just announced? It looks pretty lively, with all public school kids in charter schools and results improving steadily.

New Orleans Saints cheerleaders and The Original Royal Players Brass Band join Orleans Parish students to celebrate healthy school meals in 2012.
USDA photo by Terri Romine-Ortega

Jay is wrong about the death of portfolio and the reasons that drove the return of schools to local control. Under state law, the Recovery School District’s oversight of New Orleans charter schools had to be reconsidered every 5 years. It was never designed to be permanent. While union opposition to chartering and new schools has been a constant, majority support for the new bill was based on discomfort with long-term state takeover, not on substantive opposition to the post-Katrina school system.

But Jay could become right in the future. Though portfolio in New Orleans is not dead or even visibly weakened, it could expire if nothing is done to sustain it.

The local control bill is not perfect. Reformers worked to create a new law that prevents a return to district-operated schools and protects charters’ freedoms. A stronger bill might have passed earlier, before the election of the current Democratic Governor. But this one can work if charter operators assert the rights the bill gives them, parents continue demanding choice and punish elected officials who try to take it away, and reformers don’t let unions and other anti-reform groups have their way with the elected board.

That’s the way it goes in a democracy. A victory (e.g., the 2005 RSD takeover of the schools, and yes, the new local control law) is never permanent but must be built on and defended. Groups with other interests will always try to tear it down, and supporters will defect if the winners don’t deliver as promised.

Anti-reformers will campaign for election to the new board, and some elected members will try to exceed their powers so they can dictate to schools and create opportunities for patronage. Current charter operators could also try to dominate the board, protecting weak schools and blocking innovative new providers. [See our blog about this possibility in NOLA.] To counter such efforts from all sides, reformers will need to use all the leverage the new law gives them, including appeal to the state board when required.

The good news is that the RSD has helped to organize new groups—charter operators and parents with expanded options—that are incentivized to defend what they have.

Jay suggests that centralized governance—i.e., dependence on one local board to judge charter school applications and decide which existing charters will be sustained or closed when their terms expire—is destined to fail. He prefers two alternatives with no citywide gatekeeper: multiple independent authorizers or a publicly funded but unregulated voucher scheme. But gatekeeper-free options have their own gaping liabilities: they are easy on school start-ups but lack good mechanisms to close weak …read more    

12/08/2020 |

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