By NEMS Daily Journal
Four key figures in unsuccessful efforts to enact a public charter school law during the 2012 legislative session have regrouped to begin planning another attempt in 2013. In parallel, public school supporters, especially parents and teachers in strong public school cities and counties, should press the case for a law that doesn’t jeopardize resources and students for those schools that are performing well.
The high-level planners, all Republicans, are Speaker Philip Gunn, Clinton; Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Jackson; Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, Oxford; and, House Education Chairman John Moore, Brandon.
Public charter school legislation failed because it could not pass the House Education Committee, where a bipartisan coalition resisted what it saw as an overly broad bill not favored by its constituents. In so doing, those legislators defied the pressure of the GOP leadership.
A good case can be made for allowing public charter schools that, by law, must be broadly representative of the student population in districts where they are established, and if they are held to the same accountability as regular public schools. We supported such a law in the past legislative session.
It became clear during the 2012 session that no consensus developed about who should approve establishment of charter schools – the existing state Board of Education or a special, separate establishing board whose members deal only with charter schools.
Absent consensus, giving that responsibility under a new law to the existing state Board of Education makes sense. The state board is bound under oath to uphold school law, so even-handedness is likely.
The underlying reason for more broadly allowing charter schools in Mississippi is to give innovative methods and approaches an opportunity to close the achievement gap between economically poor students and those from more prosperous situations. The academic achievement lines in our state also divide by race because so many black families are poor and, by proportion, relatively fewer white families.
The point in public charter school education is to break away from convention, which has not produced the improvements everyone agrees are necessary in Mississippi.
Some public charter schools have produced strongly positive results among their students. Remarkable improvement is not universal. A bipartisan panel should seek out and observe the best-performing public charter schools, especially those in states similar to Mississippi. like Arkansas and Louisiana.
We agree with provisions allowing boards of education in high-performing public school districts to veto charter schools.
Finally, constituents of regular public schools should tell legislators they will not tolerate funding charter schools with the result that regular public schools receive lower funding or require local property tax increases.