Giving school districts a way to stand on their own may be a hard sell, but Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, feels it could be one way to bring students back into public schools.
"I've thought about this for a whole year," Reynolds said, "and I'm very concerned about the devastating effect these out-of-state charter companies will have on local school districts."
Reynolds has filed House Bill 206 with the Louisiana Legislature that would allow for a Constitutional Amendment by which local residents within a school district could vote to open an Independent School District (ISD).
According to Reynolds, a form of this bill has been before the Legislature the last two years, but this is the first time a Democrat has run with it.
"The pushback on this deal is, it takes away money from local school boards," he said. "But if we had one 250- to 300-student charter school from an out-of-state charter company, that would take away a lot more money than opening up an ISD."
Forming an ISD is no easy task, Reynolds stressed. He used schools in south Webster Parish as an example of how it would work.
"Let's say Central and Lakeside decided they wanted to become an Independent School District," he said. "They could put it on the ballot and voters in the entire district would vote on it. If it passed, they would be able to form an ISD."
As an ISD, the district would have its own superintendent and board.
"They would be included in the MFP* (Minimum Foundation Program) count, although that would take money away from up here (Webster Parish School Board)," he said. "They would be able to do a lot of curriculum and discipline things ... a lot of things that school boards do now. It's very localized control."
Reynolds said the ISD could also levy ad valorem taxes to pay for expenses or improvements for the schools in the ISD.
It provides an oversight that is missing from charter schools, he pointed out.
"That district would still be in the confines of the public school system with testing, teacher certification ... all the things you don't have with a charter school," he said. "It just keeps that ISD independent from the school board."
Implementing an ISD in Webster Parish may not be practical, Reynolds admitted.
"In your big cities, it may be," he said. "All my bill does is give the districts the opportunity to do it. It doesn't guarantee anything. It just gives the mechanism by which to do it."
A portion of the bill "Replaces requirement that the legislature create parish school boards with a requirement that the legislature create local public school boards and specify their geographic jurisdiction and requires voter approval of new school boards; provides that any local public school district is to be included in the MFP and has constitutionally granted authority to levy ad valorem taxes."
"The bill is a long shot, to be honest," said Reynolds, who stressed that he is a proponent of the public school system. "But we've opened up the doors for the charter schools and voucher schools. We need to think out of the box long term, and this is one of the ways we may be able to pull some of those charter school and voucher kids back into public schools."
*According to an online source, in Louisiana, the Minimum Foundation Program is the formula that determines the cost to educate students at public elementary and secondary schools and defines state and local funding contributions to each district. Education officials often use the term "MFP" to refer specifically to the portion the state pays per student to each school district.