EDITORIAL: Charter schools

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate’s legislation approving charter schools routinely operating as part of the public school system needs the tempering influence of the bill passed Wednesday in the House that would allow charter school operations contracted by the state Board of Education to restore failing school districts.
The House version would reserve a radical fix for radically broken situations.
The Website www.uscharterschools.org defines charter schools as “nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The ‘charter’ establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.”
Passage of charter school legislation is not surprising because the issue has been on the radar in Mississippi for more than a year, and versions previously have passed in the Senate but not in the House.
The Senate’s bill passed Tuesday goes further than what many believe could be a potentially beneficial possibility – the careful and restrained approach reflected in the House version.
Louisiana, in response to the hurricane-devastated school situation in New Orleans, adopted laws allowing recovery school districts, and the model has been embraced with some success.
However, the New Orleans school system was already largely discredited, ripe for the kind of special handling described by Mississippi Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham, who said he would support allowing the state Board of Education to create charter schools in chronically low-performing districts.
The idea is and has been controversial in Mississippi because some fear it could re-segregate many public schools under the guise of choice. Anyone who believes that some Mississippians would not use charter schools for elitist and even illegally narrow purposes is not living in the reality of our state’s history and culture.
Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said he has supported the charter school concept in the past, but could not during the current budget crunch. He noted that Gov. Haley Barbour already has cut kindergarten through 12 grade education about $200 million because of a ongoing slowdown in state tax collections.
Establishing charter schools in Mississippi should be carefully controlled and monitored directly under the Board of Education and state department.
The idea needs a period during which defining characteristics of charter school education are firmly established and justified in careful assessments.
Prove success in limited situations of failure, then perhaps move toward broadening the possibilities – if everything works as supporters hope and as independent assessors verify.