The State of Public Education in New Orleans



Operations & Administration

This chapter is divided into the following sections:


School Finances

Human Capital

School Choice

School Finances

Louisiana ranks 20th in the United States in per-pupil expenditures when adjusted for regional cost differences.59 Public schools in New Orleans continue to outspend the state on average, although the gap continues to shrink each year. As illustrated in Figure 10, average spending at public schools in New Orleans was $12,797 per pupil in the 2011-12 school year (the most recent year of data available), about 19 percent higher that the state average of $10,765.60

However, RSD and BESE charter schools spent considerably less in total per pupil ($10,500-11,000) than OPSB charter, and OPSB and RSD direct-run schools ($14,800-17,300).61


Although public schools in New Orleans spend more than schools throughout Louisiana in every major spending category—Instruction, Pupil/Instructional Support, School Administration, Transportation, and Other Support—two categories account for the majority of the difference. New Orleans schools spend about $900 more (42% more) per pupil on “other support” and about $500 more (72% more) per pupil on “school administration.”62

Compared to other public schools in New Orleans, RSD direct-run schools spent the most on “other support” ($4,907 per pupil) and RSD charter schools spent the most on “school administration” ($1,175 per pupil).63

Figure 10

Transportation Costs

Citywide busing and transportation costs became a community concern when a six-year-old student was hit and killed by a car in February of 2014 as he crossed the street for his school bus.64 On average, New Orleans public schools spent 21% more on transportation than all public schools in Louisiana during the 2011-12 school year, the most recent data available.65 RSD charter schools, which are required to provide transportation to their students, spent 23% more on transportation than all public schools in Louisiana.66

Funding for Students with Special Needs

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, public schools in New Orleans will have access to funds to serve students with special needs:

  • Through the CEA OPSB agreed to allocate $5 million initially and $1.3 million annually to a high cost service allocation accessible to all public schools in New Orleans.67
  • The Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), the public school funding program that determines state allocations based on local revenues, will increase the pool of money for high cost service allocation from $3 million to $4 million.68 Additionally, Louisiana allocated $4 million in IDEA funds.69 Statewide, LEAs serving students with special needs can apply for funds from the pool. For the 2013-14 school year, the high risk pool was only able to fund 53 percent of the additional costs schools incurred by serving qualifying students.70
  • RSD is implementing a new special needs funding program.71 RSD will now distribute money to its schools using a tier system based on need and service minutes. As a result of this change, RSD schools serving the neediest students can receive up to an additional $20,000 per child. Though OPSB has not yet implemented a tiered system, it has committed to consider using a citywide differential funding formula in the future.72
Figure 11

School Facilities

The School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish, adopted in late 2008, serves as the city’s blueprint for renovating and rebuilding school facilities through 2016. In August 2010, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded RSD and OPSB a final settlement of $1.8 billion, a single lump-sum for hurricane-damaged public schools.73

Figure 12

In response to concerns expressed by the community regarding $420 million in unfunded projects under the Master Plan, OPSB and BESE approved a revised Master Plan in October 2011.74 The revised plan is intended to build, refurbish, or renovate public school facilities without requiring additional local funding. The revisions replaced previously unfunded renovations and new construction projects with less expensive refurbishment projects and smaller school sizes. It also identified additional cost savings and cited additional revenue opportunities, including Louisiana state historic tax credits and federal New Market Tax Credits (NMTCs).

As of May 2014, 17 of the 87 school rebuilding or rehabilitation projects included in Phases 1 and 2 of the Master Plan are complete, with another 18 in construction, 5 in the procurement process, 24 in the design phase and 23 in the planning phase.75 Current awarded contracts for the Master Plan total $420.1 million. Additional capital projects including minor stabilizations, demolitions, and securing vacant buildings, are in progress and amount to $14.8 million in awarded contracts.

Budgets of construction projects, especially renovation projects, often increase throughout the project process and some variance between original and revised cost estimates is to be expected. Nonetheless, a large variance in project costs could have a major impact on the districts’ ability to complete the entire plan with currently available funds. As illustrated in Figure 13, a large gap exists between original cost estimates and actual spending.76 For projects under the Master Plan that were already complete or in construction as of March 2014, revised cost estimates totaled $304 million (22 percent) more than the original cost estimates. In early July, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report projecting a $330 million shortfall.77 

Currently, there are no dedicated revenue streams to provide for school facility repairs. During the 2014 session, the Louisiana Legislature approved a bill allowing Orleans Parish to dedicate funding to long-term maintenance and preservation of school facilities, which is expected to be on the December 2014 ballot.78 If approved by Orleans Parish voters, public schools in the city will have an additional $30-40 million per year by 2021 for capital replacements, repairs, and improvements.

Figure 13

Disadvantaged Business Enterprises

After committing to increasing the number of construction-related contracts awarded to disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) in 2012, RSD and OPSB made considerable progress towards their goals of 25 percent and 35 percent participation per project, respectively, during the 2013-14 school year. As of March 2014, DBEs had contracts valued at 16 percent ($40 million) of all open RSD contracts ($242 million) and 26 percent ($47 million) of all open OPSB contracts ($177 million).79

School Facilities Master Plan Map

InteractED Icon

The map below includes all school facility construction projects under the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish. The master plan guides the rebuilding of public schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The plan is mostly funded by a $1.8 billion settlement from FEMA.

The size of the project reflects its projected costs and the color signifies whether the project is a new building, a renovation, or a refurbishment. The filters allow for sorting by zipcode, project type, construction phase, district, high school or elementary school, building name, school program, school governing body, and percent over budget.

School Choice

Following Hurricane Katrina, neighborhood attendance zones for public schools were eliminated. In the absence of school zones, students exercise school choice and may apply to attend any public school in the city regardless of where they live. Until 2012, although parents completed a common application, they were required to apply directly to the school. Enrollment decisions were made at the school-level, often on a “first-come, first-served” basis. Each school was responsible for managing its own enrollment process and maintaining a waitlist as needed.

The decentralized application process presented many challenges to schools and families. Although many schools appreciated the autonomy afforded to them in the enrollment decision-making process, they were faced with many uncertainties. For example, if a student received acceptance to more than one school, there was no formal mechanism for accepting or refusing his/her seat. Schools had little clarity on the number of students who would actually enroll. For families, it was difficult to apply to multiple schools and parents often complained about the lack of transparency in the decision-making process.88


In 2012, RSD launched the city’s centralized enrollment system, OneApp, which standardized the enrollment process and created a single framework for enrollment assignments. All RSD schools (charters and direct-run) participated. Using OneApp, parents and students rank up to eight schools in the order of their preferences or choose to stay in their current school. Assignments are made through an algorithm that assigns students to schools based on various priorities. For example, sibling assignments are prioritized; for grades K-8, geographic catchment area is also prioritized. Students are offered one seat in the school that best matches their preference and has an available seat.

Year 1: 2012-13

For the 2012-13 school year, 25,000 students submitted an application using OneApp. 84.2% of entering kindergarten and rising ninth grade applicants were offered a seat in one of their top three schools.89 Seventy-five percent of applicants were placed in their number one choice. Students who chose to stay in their current school were asked to indicate their “intent to return” and 80 percent of students elected to stay in their current schools.90

Year 2: 2013-14

The following year, OPSB direct-run schools and private schools participating in the state voucher program joined OneApp. OPSB charter schools could voluntarily join, though only one chose to do so. Their participation will be mandated upon their charter renewals.91 Of the 27,000 students who submitted applications in 2013 for the 2013-14 school year, 71.5 percent were offered a seat in one of their top three schools and 55 percent of applicants were placed in their number one choice school. OPSB schools were most often ranked in the top three but have a limited number of seats to offer. Nearly three-quarters of students elected to stay in their current school.92

Year 3: 2014-15

For the 2014-15 school year, 75 public schools participated in OneApp.93 New public school additions to the process included five OPSB charter schools, four BESE charter schools, and a new RSD school. Eighty percent of applicants were offered a seat in one of their top three choices. In the key transition grades (kindergarten and ninth grade), 90 percent of students were placed in one of their top three choices. Nearly 18 percent of students could not be matched to any of their ranked schools.94 Students who chose to stay in their current schools were not required to submit an application or “intent to return.” About 75 percent of families did not submit a OneApp, opting instead to remain in their current school.

Changes were also made so that selective admissions schools could participate in OneApp. The timeline changed to accommodate five schools (nine programs) with selective admission criteria. The extra time was provided to ensure applicants met the requirements before the computer matching took place. For the 2014-15 school year, RSD began accepting applications in November 2013.

Selective Admissions

Schools participating in OneApp are not required to have open admissions policies, but they must be transparent about their admissions criteria. For example, Lycee Francais, International School of Louisiana, and International High School have language-immersion programs with fluency requirements above certain grade levels. Many schools require that families attend an Open House or school tour in order to be eligible to enroll. Other schools, such as International High School and McDonogh #35 have programs with specific academic criteria, and Edna Karr’s band program requires that students audition for a spot.95

Placement Priorities

In addition to the priority placed on siblings and students living within school’s geographic catchment area, many schools prioritize children of staff members. Some schools serving students in middle school and high school have prioritized placement of students from their elementary school pipeline. These schools include Ben Franklin Elementary (grade 7), Cohen College Prep (grade 6), McMain (grade 7), McDonogh #35 Academy (grade 7) and McDonogh #35 (grade 9).96

Catchment Zones

Students may be given priority to a school if they live inside its geographic catchment zone.97 The city has been divided into six catchment zones. These are not the same as neighborhood schools zones because the OneApp catchment zones are large and put many students well beyond walking distance to the schools.

Closing Schools

Students in closing schools receive preference when applying to a new school; almost 700 students from closing schools used OneApp to access their new school and were more likely than the average student to get into one of their top choices.98

Human Capital

Table 2

Human capital decisions, such as hiring, firing, and professional development are decentralized in New Orleans. Most school districts in the United States have a centralized human resources department where hiring decisions, including salary and benefits, are made uniformly. Conversely, invididual schools and CMOs in New Orleans recruit their own teachers, set their own pay levels, and compete for teachers and administrators with one another.

This decentralization took hold after the RSD took over most of New Orleans’ schools post-Katrina. The collective bargaining contract between OPSB and UTNO lapsed in mid-2006.99 This change, along with decentralization, has led to schools having widely varying teacher salaries and demographics, including levels of experience. Additionally, new teaching pipelines and alternative certification programs have expanded as schools look for non-traditional ways to attract staff.

Figure 14

Data suggest that teacher turnover and low experience levels are improving. Between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 school years, the average teacher in New Orleans gained about three years of experience and, on average, fewer teachers were leaving their schools.100

The percentage of minority teachers in New Orleans schools has decreased during that same time period. In the 2012-13 school year, about 92 percent of students were minority, compared to just 54 percent of teachers.101

Teacher Evaluations

As of the 2012-13 school year, Louisiana teachers are evaluated based on a combination of classroom observations (50%) and student outcomes (50%), most using a system titled Compass.102 Student outcomes are based on value-added data in tested subjects and student learning targets in untested subjects. At the end of each academic year, teachers are assigned one of four ratings: Ineffective, Effective (Emerging), Effective (Proficient), and Highly Effective.103 Figure 15 illustrates how New Orleans teachers outperformed their peers on the most objective Compass measure, value-added. However, only 30 percent of teachers are rated this way and the average Louisiana teacher scores higher on all other measures, including the final rating.


In 2012, the state legislature passed a law that tied tenure to teacher evaluations. The law requires teachers to be rated highly effective five out of six years to receive tenure and mandates that teachers lose tenure when they are rated ineffective for a single year.104 The law has been challenged in district court.105 LDOE will continue to enforce the law pending completion of the judicial process.106

The State of Teachers’ Unions

In January 2014, a Louisiana appeals court ruled that more than 7,000 tenured teachers and staff of OPSB were wrongly fired in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) union.80 The court ruled that the employees were denied their right to due process and the right to be rehired after schools reopened. The court awarded the employees two to three years of back pay, including benefits. The decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court and damages could amount to $1.5 billion if the ruling is upheld.81


The Return of Unions? In May of 2013, teachers and administrators at Morris Jeff Community School voted to create the first charter school-based union in Louisiana.82 Prior to Katrina, all teachers were covered under a collective bargaining agreement, which ceased to exist after the storm.

In the spring of 2014, Benjamin Franklin High School teachers submitted a petition with signatures from 85 percent of the instructional staff to the school’s board, which voiced their desire for a union.83 About a month later, the board voted 9-1 in favor of allowing unionization.84

Teachers from Benjamin Franklin will join the UTNO, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).85 AFT currently represents instructional staff at over 150 charter schools across the country. Teachers from Morris Jeff had conferred with UTNO representatives, but chose instead to organize with the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE).86 The Lens reported that UTNO has been actively seeking teacher contact information from charter schools in an effort to reestablish the organization and offer professional development to teachers.87