TATE REEVES: Public charter schools give parents a choice

By Tate Reeves

Too many Mississippi students are stuck in a school that is not working for them. Too many teens are giving up on an education and dropping out of school. Too many parents are frustrated with the lack of options for their children.
It’s time for Mississippi to rethink what is possible in public education. We need innovative ways to improve public school education in our state, and public charter schools are one way we can achieve our goals. By allowing a choice, healthy competition will spur both traditional schools and charter schools to do their best to attract quality teachers and better educate students.
This week, the state Senate will vote on allowing public charter schools in Mississippi. I would like to present the facts about this important legislation.
This bill creates an independent commission that will either approve or deny only the best charter school operators with a proven track record of success. Appointees will be from the governor, lieutenant governor, Department of Education and the Institutions of Higher Learning.
Public charter schools would be funded with existing dollars from the federal, state and local levels. No new taxes would be added. The funds within the current school funding formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, would follow a student to their school of choice.
Public charter schools could be allowed (but are not required) in any district in the state. However, the local school boards of districts rated as “star” or “high performing” by the state Department of Education also would have to give a stamp of approval to any charter school seeking to open within those top districts.
The independent commission will have the authority to allow charter schools in the other districts rated as “successful,” on “academic watch,” or “low performing.” These districts contain too many struggling schools, and our parents and students deserve an alternative.
Let me be clear: Being labeled as “successful” does not necessarily mean a district’s schools are meeting the state minimum requirements. In reality, districts can earn the label of “successful” while housing schools that are “academic watch,” on “low performing,” or “failing.”
For example, the East Tallahatchie County School District is rated as “successful” despite its three schools being rated as “low performing” or on “academic watch.” The McComb School District has three schools on “academic watch” though the district has been deemed “successful.” We cannot settle for simply successful districts producing average, or lower-than-average, results.
Mississippi is not entering new territory by allowing charter schools. Parents in New Orleans, Memphis and the Arkansas Delta have enjoyed a choice in their children’s education for many years. In fact, the KIPP, or Knowledge Is Power Program, school in Memphis, recently announced plans to expand with a $3 million grant from an education fund. Now, that’s real success.
Charter schools have the flexibility to meet the needs of today’s families while being held accountable for improving student achievement. If they fail, their charter will be revoked.
Public charter schools are not the answer to all of our educational challenges; however, they do give parents a choice in their child’s education. A better education for our children provides a stronger foundation for a well-trained workforce to grow Mississippi, as careers demand high skills and technical knowledge. Every child deserves that chance.
Tate Reeves is lieutenant governor of Mississippi. Contact him through LHipp@senate.ms.gov.