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House Ed Committee has failed Mississippi kids

 

Mississippi’s public education is failing. The system is greatly underserving a large portion of Mississippi kids, despite the few bright spots where public education is working well, like Desoto and Madison counties. 

The 2012 Mississippi Legislature appeared ready to move the state education system forward with charter public schools. The Senate passed a bill that was sent to the House, where the House Ed Committee let it die. Mississippi children were denied a chance at a better education system by a single vote.

While support has grown for charter public schools, opposition has as well.

Mike Sayer of Southern Echo said his group opposes charter public schools “where there is no proven track record for the entrepreneur and no evidence that it will address the problems of the under-performing school.” Just a little bit of research on charter public schools shows that states that have implemented charter public schools similar to the outline in the Senate bill have seen marked improvement in education.

In an area of Memphis, whose demographics are similar to those of Jackson, an underperforming district in Mississippi, the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences is serving students in a way that the traditional public school system could never do. The same can be said for the KIPP schools in Helena, Ark., an area with demographics nearly identical to many districts in the Delta.

Another concern of charter public school opponents is that such will lead to segregation through “white-flight.” However, the wording of the legislation is very specific in outlining admissions as “colorblind.” 

If there are more applicants than spots available, then admissions is determined by a lottery (random), which does not take race into account. Also, the legislation directly outlaws race-specific schools, though allowing gender- or need-specific schools.

The final and most controversial aspect of the legislation is the fact that charter public schools can be set up anywhere in the state, even in High Performing or Star Districts, the highest success categories. Essentially, people are questioning why there would be a need for charter public schools in districts that are already succeeding.

First, not all students are succeeding in districts that are labeled as such. It is possible for charter public schools to be established to serve students with disabilities or in need of different teaching approaches. These students are not specific to underperforming districts. The most successful school in the country might still have struggling students. If we do not allow charter public schools the option of serving well-performing districts, then we could be hampering students who need options.

Second, the process of gaining a charter is intentionally difficult because everyone wants to make certain that a charter public school is needed and being started for good reason and mission. However, since gaining a charter is difficult, it is likely to not be possible to gain a charter for certain areas where one is truly needed. If a well-performing district is next to an underperforming district where a charter is unlikely to be obtained, then it could be possible to gain the charter in the well-performing district to serve the underperforming district beside it.

For example, Madison County was most recently labeled High Performing while Canton Public School District was labeled as At Risk of Failing. Canton Public Schools District is encircled by Madison County School District. So, a charter school established in Madison County near the edge of the district borders could easily serve Canton Public School students even though it is established in a High Performing district.

Third, district ratings can fluctuate from year to year. Just because a district is High Performing one year does not mean it will be the next. If a charter public school were established in a High Performing district, it could help keep the district at High Performing rather than allowing it to slip. If the charter public school was forced to wait until the district slipped from High Performing before being established, the education system would have failed hundreds or even thousands of students.

Charter public school legislation is something Mississippi desperately needs. In a video update, Gov. Phil Bryant said he intends to call a special session of the Mississippi Legislature in order to address charter public schools and the needs of the children of Mississippi. This issue isn’t red-blue or black-white. It’s about moving Mississippi forward together by better serving and preparing public school students.

 

Trenton Winford is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Madison.