OUR OPINION: Senate charter school bill provides reasoned process

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Senate Education Committee on Tuesday approved a new, tightly written, expanded charter school law that provides a reasonable, thorough and accountable process for establishing public charter schools in most of the state’s school districts, when support and proven need develop.
A vote in the committee’s Tuesday morning session significantly improved the bill by removing provisions that would have allowed “virtual” charter schools, unmonitored online instruction fraught with vexing questions and spotty success, at best, compared to other charter schools and regular public schools.
The Senate committee’s version provides the latitude necessary to establish charter schools with full vetting in the process that would go before a new, special board. The charter schools created would be held to the same accountability and reporting standards as non-charter public schools.
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.
The proposed law would allow the formation of public charter schools with open enrollment in every school district, except Star and High-Performing districts ranked under state testing results. In those districts local school boards would have to grant permission for formation of charter schools, an appropriate safeguard against charters needlessly draining resources and students from schools already performing well.
Charter schools would be funded from the same pools of state and local funding used to support non-charter public schools, with funds based on per pupil allocations. Students transferring from non-charter public schools to charter schools would be followed by tax-supported funds.
Charter backers generally consider the freedom from bureaucratic control and an atmosphere of innovation, including more rigorous academic demands, all student-centered, to be the schools’ strengths.
While “not a panacea,” as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told the Daily Journal’s editorial board, correctly structured charter schools offer an alternate route for the parents who want their children in a public school but with different methods.
Reeves and Senate sponsors Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, said they expect significant private foundation support for charter schools in predominantly at-risk districts. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is heavily involved in closing achievement gaps through the use of charter schools.
Effective education shapes Mississippi’s future; the status quo hasn’t worked for all. A new, optional method is necessary.