By NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi House’s passage Tuesday of a bill authorizing a pilot program for what’s called “innovative schools” in a limited number of at-risk school districts faces almost certain defeat in the Senate because it is not an outright charter school authorization, approved in the Senate’s earlier version of the same bill, SB 2293.
The charter schools and failing districts issues grows in part out of widespread concern about Mississippi’s 211 failing or at-risk-of failing individual schools, and in part because some people want charter schools authorized statewide.
A conservatorship for failed districts is the only structure allowed under Mississippi law to help troubled districts recover.
The Senate version would allow charter schools whose enrollment is open to children across attendance zone and operate with financial autonomy outside the regular public school structure, but not as private schools.
The House’s “innovative schools” would be governed by a school board comprised wholly of parents elected by the parental constituency, but the teachers would remain as state employees, with state financial control. Some education leaders like state trustee Claude Hartley of Tupelo believe an all-parents board may not be fully representative of community ownership and support.
“I believe we need to keep in mind that public schools don’t belong only to parents but to whole communities, and valuable ideas might be put forward by non-parents in a recovery school setting,” Hartley said.
A different approach from the regular model is obviously is needed in many districts.
Because the House’s innovative schools idea is a pilot program perhaps a similar pilot program using a traditional charter school model limited to troubled districts and attendance zone enrollment could provide helpful outcome comparisons, especially in rural areas.
Hartley, who chairs the state school board’s legislative affairs committee, said he is especially interested in how charter schools might work in rural areas.
It’s also important to remember that charter schools are perceived by many Mississippians as an extension of segregation.
In Chicago, whose “innovative schools” model is widely studied, The Office of New Schools (ONS) in the Chicago Public Schools works to recruit, develop, and support new schools and ultimately, hold them accountable to high performance measures. ONS manages a portfolio of 86 schools that consists of charter and contract schools.
If agreement is not possible in the regular session, perhaps a special legislatively named committee could work to perfect a model and, with Gov. Barbour’s cooperation, address the issue in a special session.