Given Mississippi’s history, it is imperative that no educational reform turn the clock back on Brown v. Board of Education. Any public charter school legislation will include specific language prohibiting private schools from converting to charter status . Public charter schools must adhere to the same federal statutes that prevent all public schools – traditional an d charter – from making enrollment decisions that discriminate on any demographic basis or religious affiliation. Additionally, the proposed legislation for Mississippi will require student demographic s of a public charter school to generally mirror the demographics of students in the district. Furthermore, charter applicants must undergo a rigorous authorization process that would reject any application that establish es white flight public charter schools or plan s to teach religious doctrine. Through this extremely rigorous authorization process, only well intentioned, high quality school proposals will be potentially approved.
Unlike magnet schools, which typically limit admission based on academic or other performance criteria, public charter schools are open to all students. Public charter schools will have a fair and open admissions process, conducting outreach and recruitment to all subgroups of the community they serve. If a public charter school is over-enrolled at a grade level, a lottery process will ensure the random admission of students, and student ability will not be considered . Nationally, research shows that charters typically serve low income students and those students who have not been served well by their traditional public school s.
All public schools – traditional and charter – are funded based on their average daily attendance . If a student leaves a traditional public school for a public charter school , that student’s per pupil funding follows him or her to the public charter school. The reality is that public charter schools will have access to less money than traditional public schools. Typically, public charter schools receive only a portion of local tax dollars per pupil and do not receive facilities dollars . Public charter schools also cannot ask the county commissioners, boards of supervisors, or city councils for tax increases to fill budget holes. Therefore, public charter schools will have to be more efficient while also meeting their goals and benchmarks. It is no secret that school districts in Mississippi are cash strapped, which is all the more reason to ensure that taxpayer money funds student learning that produces increased achievement results – often found in the public charter school environment.
Teacher quality is the most critical, classroom based factor in raising student achievement. Mississippi will require 100 percent of the teachers in a charter school to have a bachelor’s degree and have proven competence in the field they are teaching. The rigorous authorization process that public charter schools applicants undergo will require them to describe their staffing plans prior to authorization. Applicants will be rejected if they do not ensure a highly qualified teacher in each classroom. With such strict accountability and standards to meet, public charter schools will have a strong incentive to hire only the most effective teachers for their class rooms.
Public charter schools are given freedom to innovate with their administrative policies and instructional time so that the academic needs of each child are met. In exchange for that freedom, a public charter school is held to a high standard of achievement and accountability. A public charter school is accountable to the authorizing entity to produce specific academic results and sound fiscal practices , which would both be identified in their charter . Additionally, they are required to report their progress periodically to several groups: the authorizing entity that grants the charter, the parents who choose the school, and the taxpayers that fund it. The authorizer that grants the charter may request more frequent reports and may take action against the school if the situation calls for it.
As charter schools are public schools, they must abide by federal regulations prohibiting the schools from refusing students because they require special education services . The proposed legislation in Mississippi will require that a public charter school’s student demographics – of which students who receive special education services are included – generally mirror the demographics of students in the district. Additionally, public charter schools are expected to meet the demands of all individual education plans.
No for profit entity will be allowed to operate a public charter school in Mississippi. Only charter management organizations or independent charter operators – both are non profits – will be allowed to operate a public charter school in Mississippi. An exhaustive application process for all potential public charter school operators will ensure that no one who is granted a chart er will be a “fly by night” operation or a company that prioritizes profits ahead of student achievement and well being . First of all, the person or group must form a non profit corporation specifically organized to operate a public charter school, and they must obtain tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. This process in itself will weed out those who illegally discriminate and others who are not willing to do the due diligence necessary to ensure a well conceived operating plan. Other aspects of the application process, including review of the application by the authorizing entity , require enough work and research to provide reasonable assurance that no inappropriate person or group will be granted a charter.