Democracy has been a foundational principle of public education in New Orleans for more than a century–though that democracy was not always extended to all citizens of our city. Many hard struggles were fought and won in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to truly extend the franchise–first to women, and then to African Americans, then to young adults. UTNO members were always actively engaged in these struggles.
In 2005, when the levees failed, most of us saw it as a horrible tragedy. A few saw it as an opportunity to remove democratic accountability from our public education system. And they did just that. Today, voters in New Orleans have the least control over the schools their children attend of any municipality in the United States. We believe in democracy and we continue to fight for and celebrate its expansion.
SB404 is the best hope to give New Orleanians back a small piece of the say they’ve lost in publicly financed education here. Contrary to what you may have heard, the bill does not mandate any changes to the way schools operate in our city. All it does is give the Orleans Parish School Board the option to negotiate with a charter operator the degree of autonomy that operator’s school(s) will have for the term of their contract with OPSB.
Currently, the law prohibits OPSB from having any control over the operational autonomy of schools it authorizes. That means when a school fails to perform in some specific way that jeopardizes the quality of education provided by that school, OPSB’s only choices are to renew the charter contract or revoke it. And revocation means either closing the school or handing it to another operator. What if, instead, OPSB could renegotiate the level of autonomy granted by the contract and support the school’s improvement for the term of its next contract? We believe this would increase the accountability power that OPSB–and, by extension, the people of New Orleans–could exert to ensure young people in our city get the education they deserve.
On Thursday, May 5, 2022, the executive council of UNTO adopted Resolution 22-01 in support of SB404. We pledge to stand in solidarity with anyone who works to expand popular democracy in New Orleans. We hope you will stand with us.