School me on schools
November 25, 2011 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Is the Lusher-Tulane arrangement unprecedented, or business as usual as U.S. charter schools go?

I am in the process of learning about the complicated world of school options (or lack thereof) in Post-Katrina New Orleans. I know very little at this point.

I have learned, however, that Tulane University donated over a million dollars to a public school (Lusher) immediately Post-Katrina in 2005, and the school got up and running again as a charter school. The string attached to this donation was that a certain number of slots be reserved for the children of Tulane employees and graduate students.

This is a highly selective magnet school that now has tiered lotteries for Tulane-affiliated students, people in the district, and then, finally, everyone else who wants to apply. There is an exam that is given to four year olds (!) that contributes to determining whether or not they can enter and likely stay until twelfth grade.

My question is whether it is relatively standard practice in charter schools for a private institution to dictate admissions preferences for an ostensibly public, taxpayer-funded school? Or is it fairly unheard of and strikes of murky business? Do guidelines for this sort of thing vary wildly from state to state?
posted by anonymous to Education (5 answers total)
I'm not sure what constitutes business as usual, but it's certainly true that the reorganization of the New Orleans public schools post-Katrina has been criticized for a number of reasons, not least political motivation.
posted by OmieWise at 8:46 PM on November 25, 2011

It's definitely not unprecedented. The Rice School is basically the same deal: a magnet school started in 1994 as part of Houston's public school system but with (at its start) 72 out of 1275 spots reserved for children of Rice University employees. I think it's also fairly normal for universities to have lab schools that are both part of the university and the local school district. But I have no idea to what degree either or both of these examples fit that description.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:50 PM on November 25, 2011

It's quite atypical for charter school supporters, whether institutional or individual, to get a preference for admission. It's not unheard of for founding board member parents in New York to still send their kids to Catholic school because they lost the lottery.
posted by MattD at 7:36 AM on November 26, 2011

It's common for charter schools to seek private donors to supplement their funds (to do things like have longer school days). Also, public schools (charter and district) receive public funds per student. So each student's attendance might get $10k for the year (probably more).

This is just a guess: It's possible that the school in question is dividing students by those funds. Maybe Tulane's 1 million dollar contribution can fund 100 kids - well why shouldn't those 100 slots go to Tulane? And public funds cover the slots of everyone else.
posted by jander03 at 12:59 PM on November 26, 2011

>> Do guidelines for this sort of thing vary wildly from state to state?

Yes. Charter schools are not regulated nationally; each state is left to determine their own charter policies just as they dictate their own public school policies.

>> My question is whether it is relatively standard practice in charter schools for a private institution to dictate admissions preferences for an ostensibly public, taxpayer-funded school? Or is it fairly unheard of and strikes of murky business?

As someone who spent a couple years working closely with charter schools in Texas (a state whose charter community is growing wildly and faster than most others in the country) on the business/admin end, I will give the very unhelpful murky answer of, "" accompanied by a hand wavey "I see both sides."

The 30-thousand-foot theory behind the charter movement is that if the local public district isn't cutting it, we as taxpayers should allow (even encourage) other methods to be tried, in the pursuit of improving education—as long as public funds aren't being misused, and as long as the educational results are meeting the state's learning requirements.

But it's important to remember that it's not actually a dollar-for-dollar funding with state money. The common national practice is that charters receive a per-pupil-revenue reimbursement for their enrolled students... but those don't cover capital expenses, facilities, bulk purchasing power, or a ton of other support and benefits that public schools automatically have access to as a function of being a government agency. Charters have to make up those expenses somewhere, and the private and not-for-profit sectors are where the money comes from.

I don't see what Tulane and Rice are doing as "buying an admission preference". There are church-affiliated charters in Texas, for example, who set aside spots for applicants who are members of the sponsoring organization. In many, many cases, these churches are the stabilizing entity that make it possible for the state to even grant the charter to the school in the first place. Allowing the sponsoring entity to have access to some student slots helps solidify and affirm the partnership, which benefits the charter. It's a very symbiotic relationship.

(Don't get me started on the church-affiliated charter issue; it's separate and frustrating on its own level because of the opportunities for religious curriculum)

But in both cases, we are talking about well-established non-profit entities who have an arguable social interest and history in investing in children's education. Universities and churches both have long ties to local schooling.

Apparently, Lusher and Tulane were working together long before Katrina, and it seems a natural fit to me that Tulane would ride in to the rescue, considering. Plus, Tulane offers college-credit education to upper school students at Lusher, so the relationship is clearly not just one of finance, but also an instructional partnership. And the "Tulane slots" aren't a free pass: applicants must still pass the admission test and must live in Orleans Parish.

Conversely, let's say the Gates Foundation began to put strings on their generous grants for charters, saying that only Microsoft employees' children are eligible for those spots, I believe that becomes a problem and a definitely unethical quid pro quo.

But the Tulane partnership... I think it's hard to say that something inappropriate or preferential is going on. I'm sure the set-asides feel wrong to anyone who doesn't have access to them—but I also bet the restriction that one must live in Orleans Parish feels wrong to a family from Jefferson Parish who really wants to apply. The best charters will always have more applicants than spaces, and the stakes are always high. It's heartbreaking, of course (Waiting for Superman, etc.)... but it's a scenario that will always encourage folks to look for perceived injustices and inequities.

I don't mean you, anon—but I'm sure you've read the comments on Picayune stories like this one, where terms like "backroom deals" and "robbing the community" and "hijacking public money" are being bandied about.
posted by pineapple at 6:58 PM on November 26, 2011

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