Mississippi moves closer on new charter school measures yet student opportunity and choice still limited

STAFF REPORTS/ WASHINGTON, DC – Calling their passage of a broad education bill “the most significant in 30 years,” the Mississippi state senate moved closer to adopting new measures to open charter schools, yet yielded to pressure from school districts in limiting the opportunity for students across the state to have substantive, meaningful choices.

“Mississippi has yet to open the book on what charter schools can really do for the whole of education across the state,” said Center for Education Reform (CER) President Jeanne Allen: “Not only is this not significant in any way, but it’s evidence that even the relatively new leadership in power is inept at withstanding the political power of the education establishment.”

The charter school law in Mississippi ranks as one of only four “Fs” on the national ranking of charter laws, an analysis that for 16 years has been measuring the impact of components of law on creating actual charter school opportunities for students. First enacted in 1997, the initial law permitted school districts to convert schools. Only one did so. That law expired in 2009, and in 2010 a new charter law was enacted, but this law allows only for the conversion of low-performing public schools. No charters were opened subsequently.

Once enacted, this bill will give a new state-level commission authority to approve new charter schools in districts currently rated as D & F, but not without prior “evidence” of local support. Proposed charters in A, B and C districts must be endorsed by a majority of the local school board members. There is no appeal for such decisions and it’s still not clear if full funds follow children to their school of choice.

“Many in and outside of Mississippi will say that this proposal is a good step forward, incrementally. The reality is that not all progress is good, and it’s unlikely that the legislature which has taken 16 years to even move charter schooling forward would improve upon this measure in enough years to save the 80 percent of children still not proficient in reading across the state,” says Allen.

About Beth Thomas

Beth Thomas Harmon is the news editor for the Southern Sentinel. She graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2011 with a degree in journalism. Beth is a New Albany native, and she began working at the Sentinel in 2013.