OUR VIEW: Senate’s charter bill remains better choice

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s House Education Committee on Wednesday afternoon approved 14-12 its version of a charter school bill, and it would prohibit charter schools in High-Performing or Star rated districts, a tighter provision than the Senate bill passed earlier.
However the House committee’s version would open the door to virtual charter schools, which are widely viewed as flawed and underperforming. The Senate bill prohibits any funding for virtual charters.
Opposition to the committee’s version was bipartisan, with some Republicans joining Democrats in strong objections.
The bill’s provision allowing minimal spending for virtual charter schools is an open invitation to failure and wasted money before the first charter is granted.
Adding the prohibition of charter schools in High-Performing or Star districts arguably would strengthen the Senate bill, but it remains generally better.
Any number of provisions could change as the process moves forward; the Senate bill is a stronger guide to follow.
The Senate bill has sensible restrictions, including prohibition of converting any private school to a public charter and requiring local school board approval in districts with High-Performing or Star ratings, the highest categories in Mississippi’s state-mandated rating system.
The Senate bill would require open enrollment, and it would require charter schools to reflect, within 25 percent, the poor-student enrollment of the regular public schools.
Charter schools receive public funds, but do not have to follow many of the rules governing traditional public schools, and their contract contains requirements for specific academic outcomes.
A state authorizing board in the Senate bill would consider charter school applications by groups wanting to operate them in low-performing and successful school districts. Any loosening of the one-board approval invites adventurism by people who seek more than the greater latitude for innovation and specific academic focus at the heart of the Senate bill.
Any approval of converting private schools of any kind to public charter status should be an automatic deal-breaker. Any bill also must contain requirements for meeting state accountability standards.
The Senate bill, tightly written, provides a reasonable, thorough and accountable process for establishing public charter schools in most of the state’s school districts, when support and a proven need develop.
The Senate’s charter model also has the potential to be 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.
Any legislative changes that would make charter schools a vehicle for dismantling strong public education should be defeated, and the whole process shelved.