Every year, our district receives state and local funding for our city’s schools. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) distributes that funding to schools through a differentiated funding formula, through which the district distributes a set amount to schools for each child, with additional funding based on students’ needs.
Some unique programs and initiatives, however, are also supported by the Systemwide Needs Program (SWNP). The SWNP is a key feature of our system. It offers direct, specific funding for specialized programming, and supports equity, innovation, and crucial district-wide collaboration.
In 2019, the Louisiana Legislature created the SWNP in law La. R.S. 17:100.12. This statute reserves a set amount of dollars each year from local revenue to fund the SWNP under the direction of OPSB and NOLA-PS. This creates a system-level fund intended to support districtwide needs that are hard for individual schools to address alone, such as the work of recruiting and retaining great teachers, and serving students who need very specialized support. This allows schools to share costs across the district, which means we preserve more funding overall and better serve our children. To ensure the SWNP has a wide impact, funding from the program must benefit at least 50% of schools or 50% of students.
In collaboration with school leaders, the Superintendent develops a plan for how the district can use the SWNP, and, with OPSB approval, the SWNP authorizes investments for a three-year period. During that time, specific investments may shift but will remain aligned to the initial plan. Since 2020-2021, SWNP has invested in two critical categories of support:
• Citywide teacher talent pipeline programs: As in many cities nationwide, New Orleans faces a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Our students deserve the very best teachers, and while we have many phenomenal educators, we need more. The SWNP supports various talent pipeline efforts, including New Orleans’ partnerships with teacher preparation programs like TNTP, the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency at Xavier University of Louisiana, and Teach For America. With the support of the SWNP funding, over 400 teachers were recruited and placed into New Orleans classrooms.
• Specialized citywide programming and supports: New Orleans has a number of important programs for students who may need additional support or a different learning environment. A school may have a small number of students requiring this type of very specialized support, but not enough to develop a best-in-class program and hire the most specialized staff members for those students. The SWNP funds these additional district-wide programs and other efforts, allowing maximum resources to be directed to students’ experiences and needs. It also contributes to school sustainability by allowing schools to share the cost of educating students who require more expensive resources and supports.
Over the past three years, three such programs have all relied on SWNP funds: the Travis Hill Schools, which educate students who are incarcerated, the Center for Resilience, and the Bridge, Educators for Quality Alternative’s therapeutic middle school. We estimate about 170 students were served through these programs over the last school year from across our city’s schools.
This first round of investments, guided by the hard work of the Orleans Parish School Board and NOLA-PS administration, were powerful, productive choices that served our schools and students. Now, Superintendent Williams and her team are working to prepare a new 3-year plan to guide investments through the 2025-2026 school year. We anticipate they will present those plans to OPSB in the coming months, and that the fund will provide $3M-$4M yearly. This is particularly important for schools’ financial sustainability, as major federal funds from the pandemic will be ending during this time.
New Orleans’ schools, the district, and the broader education community are thinking hard about the best investments from the SWNP going forward. In upcoming posts, we will highlight opportunities for continued systemwide investment, such as career and technical education or support for mental and behavioral health. At NSNO, we believe it is essential that we continue to direct these funds toward some of the most vulnerable students in our district. We also believe it is crucial that we help schools with the ongoing efforts to recruit and retain great teachers. The SWNP has already made an enormous impact in the lives of children, teachers, and future teachers in our city. We look forward to the innovation and support it will foster in years to come.