NANCY COLLINS: Charter schools needed to improve all public schools

By Nancy Collins

We, in Mississippi, cannot justify any longer, the status quo in traditional public schools. One of our greatest obligations is to ensure that every Mississippi child receives the high quality education that will prepare them for success. Today we are not meeting this obligation. Mississippi received the lowest scores on Education Week’s annual report, Quality Counts. On the Nation’s Report Card, Mississippi’s student achievement is at the bottom of the nation and at 18.7, Mississippi’s average ACT score is the lowest of any state in the nation. This has come at the cost of almost 63 cents out of every state dollar. There has been little or no accountability.
The students of our great state deserve better. A quality education unlocks limitless potential in a child. Well-educated children develop complex skills that allow them to acquire higher wages, establish innovative businesses, and raise productive children of their own. The heartbeat of economic development and an engaged citizenry is a quality education. If this generation’s educational achievements determine the future prosperity of our great state, why does Mississippi continue to shackle parents and their children to the school of their property instead of the school of their choice?
Charter schools, public schools governed at the school level by a board of directors, offer parents a choice for the education of their children. Forty states allow charter schools. One must only travel as far as Helena, Ark. or Memphis, or New Orleans to visit thriving charter schools, with lists of students waiting for an opportunity to attend. These schools – elementary, middle, and high schools – set high expectations for their students; students and their parents agree to meet those standards through a signed charter or contract. That contract often includes strict adherence to disciplinary and attendance standards as well as commitments to extended school days and outside learning opportunities. High expectations and less government regulations make charter schools an attractive alternative for parents in schools and districts.
What matters most is that parents have the freedom to choose a school that meets their children’s needs. Currently, Mississippi offers parental choice for their children’s education, only at the immense financial sacrifice to families. Whether families choose to teach their children at home, to pay school taxes and tuition to a private school, or to purchase a home in a well-performing public school district, each of these options proves costly to families. This monetary burden leaves most families in Mississippi with only one choice: no choice at all! Since charter schools will enable funding to follow the child, when parents enroll their children there, the financial burden of school choice on families is diminished. For parents of children living in poverty, charter schools offer the only choice.
Charter schools will only exist and thrive in communities with public schools that are not meeting parents’ expectations. In districts with high-performing public schools, the bands will continue to play; the choruses will continue to sing; and the lights will still shine brightly on Friday nights. Most importantly, children will continue to acquire a quality education and prepare for their successful futures. Charter schools and public schools will coexist in Mississippi, as they coexist in neighboring states, and eventually improve the level of academic rigor for all of our students.
How long will Mississippi neglect our families who reside in communities with failing schools? One’s physical address should never determine the quality of education that her children will receive. We simply cannot afford to wait another year to choose the best educational opportunities for our children. The time to pass charter school legislation is now.
Sen. Nancy Adams Collins, R-Tupelo, represents District 6, consisting of parts of Lee and Pontotoc counties. Contact her at ncollins@senate.ms.gov.