Charter Schools in New Orleans: An Erosion of the Rights to a Good Education

January 2018
John Sledge

Hurricane Katrina was the perfect opportunity for education reform supporters to experiment on New Orleans as the nation’s first mostly charter school district. With a large portion of the population gone and people focused on assessing the damages to their homes and making contact with friends and family, policymakers were getting to work covertly developing a plan for the reconstruction of public education in New Orleans.

Through a series of executive orders and legislation, officials subverted the democratically elected Orleans Parish School Board and replaced it with the state-appointed Recovery School District (RSD) to take over New Orleans’ schools. Reformers like Leslie Jacobs partnered with foundations headed by Bill Gates, among others, and touted New Orleans as a model for education development and success.

It was believed that by opening the door to charter schools, the market would improve educational outcomes. To do this, the RSD needed two conditions: make teachers easy to be hired and fired, and select the students it would enroll. And so, one of its first moves was to fire over 7,500 experienced teachers and replace them with inexperienced teachers who were cheaper to hire and easier to fire. This had a racial dimension as well; as New Orleans remains one of the nation’s cities where African-Americans represent over 60% of its population, the RSD fired its established, predominately African-American teaching force and replaced them with a younger, predominately white one.

The RSD’s next move was the creation of a lottery system and an extensive application process, which was self-selecting in and of itself. To make matters worse, some schools only extended invitations to apply to students they thought would perform well. Further, the best performing schools happen to be the schools that have a wealthier and predominantly white population.

There are even reports that some charters capitalized on taxpayer funding to support mentally and physically disabled students while ostracizing them to low-performing schools with fewer resources. The Times Picayune reported that a charter school in New Orleans, the ReNEW SciTech Academy, was guilty of special education fraud, which allowed the administrators to collect over $320,000 in public money.

The right to a quality education, to local control, and to community schooling has been undermined by the presence of charter schools in New Orleans. The Center for Popular Democracy notes that “since 2005, approximately $700 million” has been spent on charter schools that perform at a “C” level or worse.

A child’s education should never be subordinated to a corporation’s bottom line. Education is a right for all, not a target of exploitation. Parents and community members alike must demand accountability and fight for their children’s right to the best education available. For outsiders, we must stand in solidarity with their struggle.

Move to Amend seeks to challenge this illegitimate power used by corporations to prioritize profit and greed over human rights and dignity. We need to work towards establishing that constitutional rights are reserved for natural persons, not corporations, and that money is not a equal to political speech. Move to Amend’s ‘We the People’ Amendment is the only proposed 28th Amendment that get to the root problem to create a real democracy of, by, and for We the People over corporate interests.


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