Meridian Star

December 30, 2012

Charter schools back on legislative agenda

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Mississippi is not among 41 states that have allowed charter schools to operate, but many people would like to change that.

    Supporters say charter schools give parents, particularly those with children in a failing school district, a choice to send their children to a better school. Opponents say instead of creating new schools, the state should put more money into existing public schools and pay good teachers more money.

    Charter school legislation failed during the 2012 legislative session, but the debate will pick back up when the Mississippi Legislature convenes on Jan. 8.

    The Mississippi Senate passed a charter school bill, but the House did not approve the Senate's bill, which never made it out of committee.

    Gov. Phil Bryant has made charter school, or school choice, a part of his school reform package.

    “So many children in this state are trapped in schools that are not meeting their needs. Parents deserve the right to seek better opportunities for their children, and my proposals put value on school choice," Bryant said in a September speech. "Not only should we endeavor to pass a workable public charter school bill to give our children one more opportunity to succeed, we must also give parents the option to request their child be transferred to another school through the implementation of statewide open enrollment policies. My agenda further empowers parents by designating privately-funded opportunity scholarships for low-income families in D and F schools. Parents can use these programs to send their child to a school that better meets their needs.”

    Many of those who have opposed charter school legislation in the past have acknowledged that they are willing to compromise on the issue if legislation spells out very specifically the way in which charter schools can be organized.

    During a recent visit to Meridian, Nancy Loome, executive director of The Parents' Campaign, an education advocacy group, said the organization supports having charter schools in areas where traditional schools are not doing a good job.

    "We have children in Mississippi who have been trapped in failing schools for their entire school experience," Loome said. "We have children who get all  the way through 13 years of school and they've never been in a good school. That's not fair. It's not moral, it's not just and it's not good for our state.

    "The one thing that we at Parents' Campaign believe is that charter schools can provide in those situations is the ability to circumvent a dysfunctional school district that will not get the job done."

    The Mississippi Board of Education, which is a nine-member appointed board that appoints the State Superintendent of Education, sets public education policy and oversees the Mississippi Department of Education, has established principles it believes should be considered in charter school legislation.

    The board supports charter schools in "D" and "F" districts and in "A" through "C" districts with local board approval. The board believes it should be the sole authorizer for charter schools and it supports a hearing process for charter holders whose charter is revoked or for charter applicants who are not granted a charter.

    The Board of Education also would allow open-enrollment charter schools, meaning a charter school can enroll students from several different districts.

    Also, the Board wants:

    • All  charter schools required to be reflective of the population or district in the area where they are located (including minority, at-risk and special education students).

    • If the charter school has more applicants than student slots, the Board will include a provision that requires an at-random lottery for enrollment. If a student is selected, the parent will decide whether the student would go to the charter school.

    • The Board supports a blended approach for virtual course offerings, including use of the existing Mississippi Virtual School Program.

    Other features of the Board's recommendations are:

    • Per pupil dollars based on MAEP will follow the child to the charter school.

    • Charter schools can receive local funding, apply for federal grants, and accept private funding.

Charter schools are required to make full disclosure of all expenditures, including private monies.

Every charter school is required to produce an annual report to be made available to the State Board of Education and the public that includes details on operations, such as finances, staffing, and student achievement.

    • Charter schools must comply with all accountability standards applicable to “A” and “B” level schools.

    • All charter schools must abide by the same transportation requirements as other public schools.

    • The Board supports a provision allowing revocation of a charter school at any time based on academic underperformance, financial management, safety concerns, or other issues to be specifically stated in law.

    If a charter is revoked, school operators must follow a specific procedure (by a timeline provided in the law) and notification process to the public (via newspaper advertisements and/or public hearings).

    • Accountability standards and other regulations may be waived as in “A” and “B” districts.

    • The Board supports a provision that gives preference to charter schools that are supported

by successful charter organizations that have a proven track record of success.

Editor's note: This is part one of two on charter school proposals. In part two, which publishes Wednesday, Jan. 2, The Meridian Star talks to local educators and elected officials about charter schools.

The Parents’ Campaign

    The Parents' Campaign supports charter school legislation that will focus resources on helping students who are trapped in unsuccessful schools, according to the organization's website. To accomplish that goal, The Parents Campaign proposes that residents should:

1. Permit charters only in school zones where public schools have been underperforming for the two (or more) most recent years (211 schools have been rated below successful for two or more years).

2. Grant charters only to entities that have a track record of success in turning around low-performing schools.

3. Prohibit virtual charters, which have a poor track record of student achievement.

4. Require charter schools and their management organizations to be non-profit.

5. Ensure that charter schools are subject to the same assessments and accountability as all other publicly-funded schools.

6. Provide an "opt-out" system of enrollment and lottery, giving all children living in the school zone an equal opportunity to enroll.

7. Establish a single, non-politicized authorizer of charter schools that includes appointees who possess a high level of expertise in and commitment to public education.

Source: The Parents' Campaign