House opens door to charter school groups

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The House approved a proposal Wednesday that would allow the state to contract with private charter school groups to operate chronically failing public schools.
Under the proposal, the state would have the authority to take over a continuously failing school. The Children First Act, which passed last year, already allows the state to take over entire school districts that chronically fail.
The bill that passed the House on Wednesday would give the state authority to fire the principal and staff in a specific school. The school then would be placed under the direction of the deputy state superintendent. Other district administrators and staff would not be fired.
Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, successfully amended the bill on the House floor to allow the state administrators to contract with a private company to operate the school.
There are private groups that operate charter schools in various parts of the country. The KIPP (Knowledge is power program) Foundation, which operates a charter school in Helena, Ark., is an example of a privately funded, nonprofit group that could enter into a contract with the state under the Frierson proposal.
Charter schools operate with taxpayer funds, but normally have more flexibility and fewer restrictions than the traditional public schools.
Mississippi currently has no charter school law.
Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, who has opposed charter school legislation in the past, said he supported the Frierson proposal because it “only addresses failing schools. … Those of us who have failing schools need this help.”
He said some charter school groups, mostly nonprofits, “have a proven track record of success.”
The Frierson measure passed 75-43.
In recent years, and again on Tuesday, the Senate has passed charter school legislation, but it has died in the House Education Committee.
Opponents say charter schools would take money from the traditional schools and hurt public education.
But House Education Committee Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said that under the Frierson plan, the school could be operated by a charter school organization but remain part of the regular school district.
The measure meshes with suggestions by Superintendent Tom Burnham to give the state Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools in chronically low-performing districts.
Burnham said the state has taken over poor-performing districts and has turned them around, only to see them regress substantially after the state has relinquished control.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.