School reforms going on in major urban districts could also be changing the landscape of governance, according to a Thursday session of the Council of School Attorneys’ (COSA) School Law Seminar.
Deborah Rigsby, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, advocacy, and issues management, gave an overview of the current federal reform efforts, including Race to the Top.
School Improvement grants (SIGs) were started in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Education. They were started “out of concerns that we needed a greater focus on the schools on the bottom percentile,” said Rigsby.
Of the four current reforms for SIGs, the two most popular are the transformational model 71 percent are using this model and turnaround 21 percent are using this. Restarts are at 5 percent and school closures are at 3 percent.
With the federal budget being strongly debated in Congress right now, the money for continuing these reforms could be in question, she said. “If this hits Title 1 and IDEA, it could affect those programs.”
The attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) discussed the system-wide reforms going on in their districts. Diane Pappas, associate general counsel for LAUSD, said that her district’s reform efforts were spurred by the 2006 attempt by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
After things quieted down,” said Pappas, “we worked out a partnership with the mayor.” The district established a network of partners, one of which was the city of L.A., which took control of schools in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Schools run by the district’s network partners must still employee union member but can do their own hiring.
The district has charter schools; 170 of them are independent. Other charters are dependent, which means that the school board remains the governing entity, but they have latitude in other areas.
In 2009, she said, the district put up 38 low performing schools and allowed outside groups to bid on them to take them over.
“We have a lot of competition in L.A.,” she said. “It’s good for kids.
In the Boston schools, which have had a mayor-appointed school board since 1991, new state legislation is requiring the district to put into place three different reform models: turnaround, innovation, and in-district charter schools, said Alissa Ocasio, BPS’s legal advisor.
Turnaround schools develop plans that must be approved by the school committees. Any school can apply to be an innovation schools, which is like a pilot program. The in-district charter schools can be started by the superintendent and are subject to the district’s governance structure.
“The plans are designed to improve achievement; that’s the primary focus,” she said. “Any of these schools can be shut down if they are not meeting their goals.”