Miss. charter school advocates form association

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Groups that pushed for the passage of Mississippi’s new charter school law have formed an association to promote the schools.

The Mississippi Charter School Association’s creation was announced Tuesday at a meeting to encourage people who might be interested in creating such schools to start organizing.

It’s being founded by supporters of the law including the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, Mississippi First, Black Alliance for Educational Options and Better Education for Mississippi. All supported the expansion of power to create charter schools in the 2012 regular session of the Legislature.

The law takes effect Monday. It expands authority to create charter schools — public schools run by private groups that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for less regulation.

Advocates say they plan to try to recruit nationally-known charter organizations to Mississippi to run schools, but the 75 attendees at Tuesday’s session were mainly Mississippi residents who might want to start a new organization.

Scott Shirey, executive director of a group of charter schools in Arkansas run by the Knowledge is Power Program, said KIPP is interested in coming to Mississippi, but voiced concerns over some parts of Mississippi’s law, including a ban on students crossing district lines, a requirement that 75 percent of teachers hold state certification, and the ban on schools participating in the state Public Employees Retirement System.

Doris Phillips, of Gloster, for example, said she and others in her town would like to create a charter school to replace the public school that was closed two years ago by the Amite County school district in a consolidation move. But that could be hard because there are only about 1,000 students attending all of the Amite County schools now, and under the current law a Gloster charter couldn’t reach across the line into nearby Wilkinson County to recruit more students.

Phillips said she felt like she had a head start, though, because she had worked in charter schools in Missouri, Arkansas and Georgia, and because the community was already raising money to buy the former public school building.

Jennie Sturgis, the owner of Noah’s Ark Day Care Center in north Jackson, said she’d like to start a K-3 school in addition to her child care business, saying she wanted to catch students “before they become a failure.”

“I know it’s going to be a tremendous task, but I’m committed to it K-3,” Sturgis said.

But charter school veterans from other states warned that getting an application approved and then successfully starting a school would be tasks that might exceed the ability of many.

“There are people in this room who have no business educating kids,” said Ken Campbell, the president of Black Alliance for Educational Options. “That’s not a bad thing. There are other ways to support this process.”

Next up will be appointing a seven-member authorizing board to solicit and approve charter school applications. Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves each get three appointments, while the state superintendent of education gets one.

The board would begin operations Sept. 1 and seek proposals for schools by Dec. 1.

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