The State of Public Education in New Orleans



System Overview

The 2013-14 school year marks the eighth full school year since the dramatic transformation of the public school system in New Orleans. Although structures and policies continue to evolve, the overarching reform mechanisms that were catalyzed by Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent flooding in 2005 continue to define the public education model. School autonomy, parental choice, and high-stakes accountability remain hallmarks of the system. Reflecting on the past school year, the 2014 State of Public Education in New Orleans report provides information about the system of public schools, student outcomes, and the evolving education landscape. This report also highlight successes, as well as challenges, that continue to face public education in New Orleans.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina and consistently low academic performance, public education in New Orleans has redeveloped under a decentralized governance model. In 2005, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) placed the majority of public schools under the oversight of the Recovery School District (RSD). The local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) retained control and oversight of 17 direct-run schools. As families returned to the city, charter schools began to dominate the portfolio of public schools serving students in the city.

New Orleans is considered a portfolio district, where the governing authority oversees a system of independent schools that operate under performance contracts.1 Charter schools, not directly run by the district, have autonomy to hire staff, allocate their budgets, and negotiate service contracts. OPSB and RSD act as the portfolio manager by closing low-performing schools and allowing the opening of new schools or the replication of successful schools.

School Governance

In the 2013-14 school year, 87 public schools were located in the city of New Orleans. BESE authorizes two types of charter schools: four BESE charter schools, which operate under BESE and can enroll students from across the state, and 57 RSD charter schools, which operate under RSD. The five schools that RSD provided direct oversight to in the 2013-14 school year closed in the summer. The local school board, OPSB, also authorizes 14 charter schools. OPSB directly operates six schools In addition, one independent public school in New Orleans is under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.

Each year, there are changes in the education landscape due to school closures and the authorization of new charter schools. The rate of yearly changes has slowed as the system has stabilized in recent years.

During the 2013-14 school year, 44 school boards operated public schools in New Orleans. This includes OPSB, BESE, 12 charter management organizations (CMOs), and 30 independent charter schools recognized as local educational agencies (LEA).

The complex and decentralized nature of public education in New Orleans creates potential barriers for the system to equitably serve the needs of all students. Rules, policies, and procedures vary across the systems. While OPSB and RSD have worked together to rebuild and renovate public school facilities, no single entity is responsible for ensuring that all students receive equal treatment across the changing policies and directives.

*The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) is an independent school created by the state legislature, but in this report it will be categorized with the charter schools in data analysis and disaggregation.

To address the unintended consequences of a decentralized system of public schools, RSD and OPSB worked together to implement centralized solutions designed to provide equity and transparency. For example:

All public schools now use the same expulsion policies and procedures. RSD hosts a centralized Student Hearing Office that is utilized by all public schools in New Orleans.

Most schools use the unified enrollment system, OneApp, established by RSD in 2012. All but nine OPSB charter schools  and NOCCA participated in the spring 2014 application process for enrollment in the 2014-15 school year. All schools will be required to participate when their charters are renewed.

Formal standards for charter school performance have been approved by both BESE and OPSB. These standards were created to provide charter school operators with clear and consistent expectations for academic, financial, and operational performance.

In March 2014, to address the primary challenges of providing services, programs, and financial resources to serve the needs of all students citywide, RSD and OPSB signed a landmark cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA).2 The CEA lays the foundation for collaboration among the districts to meet the needs of all public school students in New Orleans. The agreement clarifies the existing partnership and commitment between RSD and OPSB and identifies new partnerships designed to equitably serve all students in the parish, particularly those with special needs.

Legislation, which created RSD in 2003, states that low-performing schools placed under RSD could be returned to local control after five years, given that the school has met acceptable academic benchmarks and demonstrated academic gains for two consecutive years. The process for return, codified in 2010, states that an eligible charter school decides by a vote of the charter school’s governing board whether to stay under RSD or transfer to OPSB.3

Long-term unified governance under OPSB appears to be out of reach. During the 2013-14 school year, ten charter school operators overseeing 17 schools eligible to return to OPSB decided to stay under RSD oversight.4 This marks the third year in a row that all eligible charter schools have decided against going under OPSB governance.

Obstacles cited in previous years behind eligible schools’ decision to stay with RSD was resolved during the 2013 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature. Act 330, signed into law by Governor Jindal, allows RSD charter schools transferring to OPSB to maintain their autonomy as well as their status as an LEA.5 As an LEA, a school is able to handle its own grants and administrative reporting and receive some federal funds directly, rather than through OPSB.

This also addressed the issue of weighted funding. Previously, schools in traditional school districts, such as OPSB, receive the same amount of funding regardless of the levels of need. Schools that serve a larger proportion of students with severe disabilities, such as many of those under RSD, would be disproportionately and negatively impacted by the shift to the traditional district’s funding formula.

Media coverage by both The Times-Picayune and The Lens identified concerns related to OPSB’s ability to govern effectively as reasons for the lack of return, as well. Until a permanent superintendent is named, there may be reluctance to return to OPSB.6 Some school boards prefer to stay with the structure they know (RSD) rather than transfer to the unknown and potentially unstable OPSB.7

Schools (CMOs) eligible to transfer in 2013:

  • Akili Academy (Crescent City Schools)
  • Arthur Ashe Charter School (FirstLine Schools)
  • Dr. M.L. King Charter School (Friends of King)
  • Dwight Eisenhower Academy (ACSA)
  • KIPP Believe College Prep (KIPP)
  • KIPP Central City Academy (KIPP)
  • KIPP Central City Primary (KIPP)
  • KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts (KIPP)
  • Lafayette Academy Charter School (Choice Foundation)
  • Lake Area New Tech Early College High School (New Beginnings)
  • Langston Hughes Academy (FirstLine Schools)
  • L.B. Landry-O.P Walker College and Career Prep High School (ACSA)
  • Martin Behrman Charter School (ACSA)
  • Morris Jeff Community School
  • Samuel Green Charter School (FirstLine Schools)
  • Sci Academy (Collegiate Academies)
  • Sylvanie Williams College Prep Elementary (New Orleans College Prep)

Governance-Schools Chart

Schools, Operators, and CMOs

In the 2013-14 school year, 87 public schools in New Orleans enrolled 44,791 students.20 The vast majority of public school students, 91 percent, attended charter schools. New Orleans continues to lead the nation among urban districts in the percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools.

CMO Table

RSD Will be 100% Charter 

At its peak, RSD operated 35 direct-run schools. When the 2013-14 school year ended, RSD closed its last five remaining direct-run schools, making RSD-New Orleans the first 100 percent urban charter school district.21

RSD Direct-Run Schools Closed May 2014
A.P. Tureaud ES
Benjamin Banneker ES
George W. Carver HS
Sarah T. Reed HS
Walter L. Cohen HS

Without the responsibility of managing the direct-run schools, RSD will experience a significant reduction in force. Hundreds of teachers and other employees will be laid off as RSD limits its responsibilities to charter oversight and accountability as well as managing system-wide services such as centralized enrollment, the expulsion hearings office, and the truancy center. Of RSD’s 600 employees, 510 will be let go due to reorganization in 2014.22

With the closure of RSD’s remaining direct-run schools, nearly 700 students were required to transfer to new schools.23 Families who chose to apply to RSD charter schools or OPSB direct-run schools applied through OneApp and received general priority through the OneApp process. In the 2014-15 school year, New Orleans will have only six traditional, direct-run schools, all operated by OPSB.

As seen in Table 1, during the 2013-14 school year, of the 75 charter schools operating in New Orleans, 45 charter schools operated under one of the 12 CMOs, serving 56 percent of public school students in New Orleans.24

Video: Changing Governance Landscape

Click and drag the slider on the image below from side to side to see the difference between the governance structure pre-Katrina and in the past school year. Then, click below to watch a video that shows how this change occurred year by year, with more details about enrollment figures.

The Cooperative Endeavor Agreement

The 2014 Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) defines the relationship between RSD and OPSB in three areas: educational programs and services intended to meet the needs of the city’s most vulnerable students; facility improvement; and the efficient and equitable use of funding and shared financial resources. The following is a summary of the key details of the agreement.

Serving the Needs of All Students
  • RSD and OPSB will work together to meet the needs of vulnerable student populations.
  • RSD and OPSB will create an exceptional needs fund to help schools serve students with the highest needs. OPSB will contribute $5 million from their general fund balance to capitalize the exceptional needs fund. In addition, a portion of the State Revenue Sharing Fund allocation will be dedicated to the fund.
  • OPSB and RSD agree to provide services to chronically absent students, a therapeutic setting for students with severe mental health needs, and support for the transition of court-involved youth back into schools. Funds set aside by Harrah’s Casino will be used for these services.
  • RSD and OPSB will continue to gather and analyze information on student demographics and school capacity to jointly plan for the number and types of schools needed citywide.
  • RSD will continue to administer the unified enrollment system, OneApp, for the 2014-15 school year and all RSD charter schools, OPSB direct-run schools and new charter schools will participate. Upon charter extension or renewal, all OPSB charter schools will participate.
  • RSD will continue to operate an Early Learning Center and community-based early intervention program to provide citywide educational services to three- and four-year olds with disabilities. OPSB will operate the Child Find office to identify students in need of services.
  • OPSB will continue to operate the Youth Study Center and the Alternative Learning Institute, which both serve incarcerated youth.
  • RSD will continue to operate the Student Hearing Office. RSD charter schools and OPSB direct-run schools will utilize the Student Hearing Office and common student expulsion policies. Participation will continue to be voluntary for OPSB charter schools.
Improving Facilities
  • Upon its completion, RSD will transfer the Bradley Elementary School building to OPSB.
  • OPSB will transfer control of the McDonogh #35 building to RSD temporarily to use the facility will return to OPSB once its no longer needed.
  • RSD will locate land to build a new Behrman Elementary School campus; OPSB will purchase the property.
  • Upon completion of Booker T. Washington High School, OPSB will purchase adjacent property for athletic facilities.
  • RSD and OPSB will continue to work together to implement the Master Plan. OPSB will use the proceeds of the sale of excess properties to finance projects identified in the Master Plan.
  • RSD will continue to pursue tax credits to leverage funds to finance the SFMP and OPSB will bring requests to the board for a vote.
Using Funds and Sharing Financial Resources
  • RSD and OPSB will work together to create and implement a common accounting process.
  • OPSB will ensure that Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) and insurance proceeds will be used to benefit schools occupied by both RSD and OPSB schools.

Enrollment & Demographics

Total Schools
Direct-Run Schools
Charter Schools

Since Katrina, changes in enrollment patterns have occurred as the governance structure has shifted. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans public schools resembled a traditional school district, with 96 percent of schools being directly run by the Orleans Parish School Board (120 schools). After the storm, the model rapidly shifted. In the first school year after Katrina, about half of schools became chartered and many others were run directly by RSD. That year, OPSB went from operating 96 percent of schools directly to only nine percent and 55 percent of all students attended charter schools, up from only four percent.25 In the following years, RSD took control of most of the schools in New Orleans.26 Figure 3 illustrates this change and how both OPSB and RSD have continued to move toward charter schools.

Students in Charter Schools

Students in Direct-Run Schools

Since Katrina, changes in enrollment patterns have occurred as the governance structure has shifted. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans public schools resembled a traditional school district, with 96 percent of schools being directly run by the Orleans Parish School Board (120 schools). After the storm, the model rapidly shifted. In the first school year after Katrina, about half of schools became chartered and many others were run directly by RSD. That year, OPSB went from operating 96 percent of schools directly to only nine percent and 55 percent of all students attended charter schools, up from only four percent.25 In the following years, RSD took control of most of the schools in New Orleans.26 Figure 3 illustrates this change and how both OPSB and RSD have continued to move toward charter schools.

Total public school enrollment in New Orleans continued its steady rise after Hurricane Katrina caused a sharp decline in enrollment. The 2006-07 school year had a total enrollment of about 26,000, only about 40 percent of the 2004-05 school year’s total of roughly 65,000. Despite yearly increases, the past school year’s enrollment of 44,791 was still less than 70 percent of pre-Katrina levels.27


Diversity in New Orleans Schools

Public schools in New Orleans have a different racial and ethnic composition from the city’s total population. Using 2012 U.S. Census population demographics as a reference, the schools are categorized based on how closely their populations mirror that of New Orleans.33 The map illustrates, by location, to which category each school was assigned.

Figure 5

Only four schools in the city fell into the “Representative of NOLA” category (Audubon Charter School, Homer A. Plessy Community School, Morris Jeff Community School, and New Orleans Military/Maritime Academy) and two were in the “Representative of NOLA Youth” category (Encore Academy and New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School).

Racial/Ethnic Composition Categories:

  • African-American > 95%: if a school’s African-American population was greater than 95%.
  • African-American 76%-95%: if a school’s African-American population was between 76 percent and 95 percent.
  • White > 40%: if a school’s White population was greater than 40%.
  • Representative of NOLA: if a school’s population was similar to that of NOLA, within 10% range of the city’s demographics.
  • Representative of NOLA Youth: if a school’s population was similar to that of NOLA, within 10% range of the city’s youth demographics.
  • Hispanic > 15%: if a school’s Hispanic population was greater than  15%.
  • Asian >15%: if a school’s Asian population was greater than  15%.
  • Hispanic and Asian > 40%: if a school’s combined Hispanic and Asian population was over 40%.

Poverty in New Orleans Schools

FRL Chart

Poverty continues to be relatively high among students in New Orleans public schools. New Orleans public schools are among the highest in the nation for its percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch (FRL). Figure 6 illustrates that the city’s 2014 FRL rate is higher than recent FRL rates in other major U.S. cities.

The distribution of FRL-eligible students across school types is not consistent. BESE charters in New Orleans have an average of 56 percent of FRL-eligible students, which is significantly lower than the citywide average of 85 percent. Similarly, those schools that have charters with the OPSB average 61 percent, well below the New Orleans public school average. Some OPSB charter schools have selective admissions requirements.34

The schools directly run by OPSB, those schools directly run by RSD, and the schools with charters from RSD, were all above the citywide average. Each group of schools has between 90-95% FRL-eligible students.35

English Language Learners

New Orleans public schools vary widely in their percentage of students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). In the 2013-14 school year, only 14 schools in New Orleans had more than five percent of their students with LEP.36

Due to privacy laws, LDOE does not report exact data for schools, with less than five percent of their student body with LEP, however, the data for the 2011-2012 school year is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.37 The chart below illustrates the wide range of LEP rates.

Generally, schools have quite low LEP rates, which can make it challenging to effectively and efficiently provide the instruction that is necessary for English language learners. School leaders have identified the need for better coordination on this matter and one CMO leader suggested the sharing of services across schools or for an outside agency to offer English language instruction to schools.

LEP Chart

Special Education in Louisiana


Many parties have been concerned about how well New Orleans’ all-choice system serves special needs students.38 In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against LDOE claiming public schools in New Orleans were not complying with federal special education law.39 The lawsuit is still being tried.

Special education enrollment across schools and governance types varies widely. Using the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, BESE charter schools and OPSB charter schools enrolled, on average, between 3-5 percent special education students, far fewer as a percentage of their total enrollment than other city schools in 2011-12.40 Schools with selective admissions processes also tend to have lower rates of IDEA-eligible students.41

OPSB direct-run, RSD direct-run, and RSD charter schools had, on average, between 10-11 percent of their student bodies classified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 2012-13 school year.42 The percentage of IDEA-eligible students enrolled in public schools ranged from zero to 22 percent with an average of 9.9 percent in the 2012-13 school year. Every “A” school in the city had below average rates of special education students.43

Special Education in Louisiana

The U.S. Department of Education rates states based on their compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Louisiana was found to meet IDEA’s legal requirements in 2014. Beginning in 2014, states were also rated on their special needs students’ academic outcomes. Louisiana received the middle rating, “Needs Assistance,” and will be required to seek technical assistance if it receives this rating for two consecutive years. Only 18 states met the requirements set under this national results-based accountability.44

Figure 9


New Orleans schools are approved to participate in the program in 2014-15.
is the average School Cohort Index score for participating New Orleans schools in 2013.
percent of New Orleans voucher students returned to their voucher school in 2012-13.

Competition is seen by many as a key element of a choice system.45 In addition to the many incentives to foster competition among public schools, the Louisiana Legislature created the Scholarship Program to broaden the range of competitors and provide parents with more choices.46

Louisiana’s voucher program provides financial support for qualified children to attend private schools. In order to qualify for financial support a student must either have been enrolled in a “C,” “D,” or “F,” school in the previous school year or be enrolling in kindergarten for the first time and have a family income that does not exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for his or her family size.47 The maximum scholarship allocation in Orleans Parish in the 2012-13 school year was $8,520 per student.48

In the 2013-14 school year, over 2,700 students in New Orleans used the scholarship program to attend 28 private schools, which is only about six percent of the total publicly-funded student population.49 Scholarship recipients are still required to take the same standardized tests as public school students. A Scholarship Cohort Index (SCI) is assigned to participating schools based on its scholarship students’ performance, which is similar to the School Performance Score (SPS) that public schools receive. Participating schools that score below a 50, which would represent an “F” score on the SPS scale cannot enroll new students. Schools that score below 50 for three of any four years of participation will no longer be able to participate in the scholarship program.50

For the 12 schools in Orleans Parish that received an SCI in 2013, the average score was 56.6, which is just above an “F” rating.51 Students in schools that are no longer permitted to participate based on poor performance will be eligible to receive a voucher to attend a participating school.

Voucher Legal Issues

Louisiana’s largest teacher associations filed a lawsuit against BESE in the summer of 2012 asserting the unconstitutionality of the voucher funding source. Vouchers were slated to be funded through the state’s public education funding formula. A civil court judge ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional in the winter of 2012.55 The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the ruling in spring of 2013. The program is currently funded by a separate legislative appropriation in the state budget. For the 2013-14 school year, $20.2 million was included in the state budget for the program.56

The United States Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) sued Louisiana’s voucher program over concerns that it increased segregation in schools located in parishes that are still under desegregation orders. A study by the Louisiana Department of Education found no adverse impact of the use of vouchers on school diversity.57 The U.S. DOJ has requested updated reports 45 days prior to future voucher enrollment to ensure compliance with desegregation orders.58