In Baton Rouge, many families have long sought to leave East Baton Rouge Parish Schools System (EBRPSS) to seek better options. In fact, of the school age children living in the parish today, less than half attend a public school operated by EBRPSS. There are three primary ways families have been able to exercise the choice to seek alternatives.
The first and most widely used means of choice in Baton Rouge is financial. This is the ability of families to access private schools, which more than half of the parish’s high school age students attend.
The second is political. In roughly the last decade, Baker, Central, and Zachary have formed new school districts where more than 12 percent of school-age children in the parish attend public schools. In Central and Zachary, which have median incomes above the parish average, this has resulted in the state’s two highest performing school districts almost from day one.
The third way to access choice in Baton Rouge is legal. Federal and state law provide alternative school options to families whose children would otherwise be assigned to low-performing schools. Choice can be in the form of access to scholarships to private schools, new public schools chartered by the local district or state, or high-performing schools in other neighborhoods. Roughly half of the enrolled students in EBRPSS attend a school that qualifies them for legal choice. Unfortunately, there are limited openings available as alternatives.
What remains of EBRPSS is a two-tiered system: one, a successful and in high demand selective magnet system and the other, a set of low-performing, general admission schools, many of which are at risk of state takeover or under some form of “transformation” status.
There is almost universal acceptance in the right of parents to choose where to educate their children, particularly when they have the means to do so. Interestingly, the form of choice most resisted by political and district officials is the one that is available to families most likely living in low-income neighborhoods.
Today, there are efforts to create a fifth public school district in the southeastern part of the parish. The attempt to create what would become the fifth largest city in Louisiana as well as one of the wealthiest has sparked a heated city-wide debate that has attracted the attention of national newspapers. Many civic leaders are actively engaged in discussions about how to address the concerns of residents in the Southeast without severing the city.
At the same time, in North Baton Rouge, where the parish’s lowest-performing schools are concentrated, community members have been having conversations about what excellence would look like in their schools. In response, New Schools for Baton Rouge has set a goal to provide 12,000 students with access to proven, high-performing schools by 2017. With the support of local champions, we believe that we have the opportunity to collapse the two-tiered education system and make sure that every school option in Baton Rouge is excellent.