OUR OPINION: Restricted, focused public charter schools in pipeline

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Legislature on Tuesday edged closer to approving a charter school act sharply focused on establishing charter schools where they could have the most positive impact: in areas with the lowest-performing schools.
The House passed the conference committee report 62-56, and the Senate is expected to vote today. It can reject or accept, but it cannot amend the report.
Charter schools in Mississippi, under the bill, would be fully public schools, though freed from most of the usual regulations and procedures of traditional public schools.
At their best, charter schools can provide intensity of instruction, individual attention, and productive innovation that helps students considered most at risk of failure learn more, learn better and close achievement gaps.
The new law would allow 15 charters per year, all to be approved by a state charter authorizing board of seven members, to be geographically apportioned and appointed to staggered terms.
The bill is mostly a product of the House’s deliberations and is more conservative than a version preferred by the Senate but rejected by the House. The more cautious approach is appropriate and the bill’s safeguards address many legitimate concerns about charter schools.
House Bill 369, the conference report, in sum, sets these parameters:
• Focuses charters in lowest performing schools, allowing charters in D and F districts, and charters can operate in districts rated A, B, and C, but only with the approval of the local school board.
• The law does not allow students to cross district lines to attend charters.
• It does not allow for-profit businesses to manage charter schools, and it prohibits virtual, or online, charters.
• It limits charters to 15 per year.
The board would begin operations Sept. 1 and seek proposals Dec. 1. Charter schools would be authorized for five-year terms. All kinds of discrimination prohibited in regular public schools is also banned in charter schools. No private schools would be allowed to convert to charter schools, and all charter schools would be non-sectarian, that is, not religious.
While funding public charter schools will require spending money from the usual education financing streams, it does not involve schemes to provide write-offs of state income taxes for donations to private schools, nor does it attempt to establish a voucher system for private schools, a direct giveaway of the people’s money for education historically, correctly paid for by people who want it and can afford it.
We hope the charter schools, as possible in House Bill 369, can achieve desired results where intensity and innovation are most needed. The first charters will be somewhat like pilot projects, a measuring stick for expectation against result, bearing close scrutiny before adding any other components.