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Mississippi charter school board rejects Natchez school plan

JACKSON — Mississippi’s charter school agency rejected a Natchez charter school proposal Tuesday but voted to advance plans for two schools in Jackson proposed by RePublic Schools and could approve them in September.

The Charter School Authorizer Board, meeting Tuesday in Laurel, said the plan for Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez didn’t meet its standards.

“There were a number of factors that caused their application to be deemed inadequate in terms of their student population and their startup plan,” charter board member Krystal Cormack said.

A review of the Phoenix application to open a 300 student high school that would also offer students some college credits found plans were inadequate to meet needs of students with disabilities, students learning English, and gifted and talented students. The board also said Phoenix didn’t have enough detail about startup plans, including a goal to raise $100,000.

RePublic Schools of Nashville, Tennessee, which will be opening one of Mississippi’s first two charter schools in Jackson next month, wants to open two more in the city. Reimagine Prep will grow to serve grades 5-8 starting this fall. RePublic proposes a second 5-8 school that would grow to 459 students and a K-8 school that would grow to 942 students.

Iretha Beyah, a board member of the nonprofit group seeking to found Phoenix, said she felt that the board was setting the bar too high, demanding too many specifics when Phoenix would have had a year to put its plans together.

“They made it all about ‘When are you going to get your startup?’ not ‘How can I assist you?'” Beyah said.

She said she felt like the process was biased against groups with less money but said Phoenix would try again.

“We’re going to regroup, and we’re going to go until we finish it out,” she said. “That’s how strongly I feel about it.

Mississippi has had trouble recruiting charter school applicants who can meet state standards, especially outside of Jackson. That’s in part because state law says students can’t cross district lines to attend a charter school elsewhere and because schools can’t open in districts rated A, B or C without permission from the local board. Both restrictions limit potential locations.

The authorizer board has been trying to reach potential applicants, including holding meetings across the state and trying to recruit charter operators from outside Mississippi.

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