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Report: Fund charter school board in regular budget process

Mississippi should change how its funds its charter school agency, a report from a legislative watchdog agency said.

The Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, in a report released Tuesday, said lawmakers should consider funding the Charter School Authorizer Board through regular appropriations.

The board is supposed to fund operations by collecting 3 percent of state and local money that goes to each charter school, of which there are currently three. Last year, when the first two schools opened, Midtown Public Charter School got $8,622 per student in state funds and Jackson school district property tax dollars, while Reimagine Prep got $8,522 in state and Jackson money. Combined with federal money and donations, Midtown got $1.46 million while Reimagine got $1.48 million.

That amount produced only $56,000 for the board. While the amount will be higher this year, it’s not enough to cover the charter board’s spending. Because there are so few charter school students thus far, lawmakers have subsidized the startup an extra $500,000. PEER recommends making appropriations permanent, saying it would also allow more money to flow to charter schools.

Board Executive Director Marian Schutte wrote in a reply that the board opposes changing the 3 percent provision, saying making the board’s funding independent of yearly appropriations decisions was part of the design.

“The (board) believes that eliminating the 3 percent authorizer fee would discontinue its only stream of guaranteed funding,” she wrote.

The report also recommends charter schools be required to report financial data to the Mississippi Department of Education in the same way as regular public schools, so their revenue and spending can be compared more easily. Schutte wrote that although the board hasn’t adopted such a rule, it’s working with the department and the current charter schools to produce data that meets state school accounting guidelines.

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