OUR OPINION: Effective charter bill still remains in reach

By NEMS Daily Journal

Public charter school legislation died on deadline in the Mississippi House Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon on 16-15 bipartisan vote, but the issue apparently is far from finished.
Gov. Phil Bryant immediately said he is considering calling a special session within the regular session to resume the debate, and the Senate may try to act through a bill alive on its calendar.
Only governors can call special sessions, and a governor controls the agenda of any special session.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said he is working with Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, to craft a solution to broadly legalize public charter schools.
The bill that died Tuesday on the House calendar was an amended version of the Senate’s bill empowering establishment of public charter schools, but with veto authority for local school boards whose districts rate Successful, High-Performing, or Star under state testing standards.
In districts of lower ratings, public charter schools could be started with approval of a proposed new statewide charter school board, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker, and the state Board of Education.
We continue support for a charter school bill that broadens the possibility of operating charter schools in districts below the Successful rating. We oppose virtual charter schools, widely considered unreliable and unproven.
Some well-run, carefully structured charter schools in other states have won impressive results in higher academic achievement, especially for disadvantaged children whose educational attainment would be considered at risk in Mississippi. Charter schools used to address that problem in our state hold significant potential when coupled with the innovations that are allowed in charter school operating structures.
Public charter schools should reflect in significant measure the demographics of regular public school districts in which they are established.
No bill should allow conversion of private schools or parochial schools to public charter status.
As we said in an earlier editorial, “The goal with the legislation is to significantly improve how much and how well public school students learn and achieve. The Senate’s charter model has the potential to be especially helpful in closing the achievement gap between students from prosperous homes and those from poor homes, and between white and minority students, and it’s encouraging that the bill speaks directly to that priority.”
We respect votes of conscience. However, satisfactory achievement statewide has not been reached in Mississippi, and innovations are needed.
Starting charter schools should not be an easy, hastily considered decision. Strong parameters and standards can shape a successful process.