More than half of 53 public schools expected to be open in New Orleans by early September — 31 schools — will be run independently under state and local charters issued to a dozen different organizations. Charter schools receive public funding and must meet public academic standards, but have great leeway in hiring staff, setting salaries, choosing a curriculum and managing daily operations. Some groups run the schools themselves, while others have hired private companies to do so. Proponents say charter schools’ independence fosters innovation and better academic performance, while critics contend that empirical studies don’t show charters to be superior to more traditional schools. Regardless of that debate, many people in New Orleans see charter schools as the key to a once-in-a-lifetime chance to remake New Orleans’s public education system, and to eke some good out of the horror that was Katrina.
“This is truly an opportunity to hit a restart button,” said Leslie Jacobs, vice president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We’re taking advantage of that opportunity to design for the long term a very different model based on public-school choice.”