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Senate OKs charter schools funded by school district dollars

The Mississippi Senate Wednesday passed legislation to allow public charter schools to operate in the state, though each school opened must receive approval from a newly created independent commission.

Under the measure approved by the Senate, local schools districts will have to find the charter schools, though federal and sate dollars the districts receive can go toward paying for the schools.

Charter schools are public schools that operate under a contract that allows administrative freedom and flexibility in exchange for what legislators say must be “exceptional levels of results-driven accountability.”

The Senate amended House Bill 1152 to allow public charter schools to open in Mississippi with approval from the independent commission. The bill, which passed 31-19, heads to the Mississippi House.

Public charter schools will be funded with existing dollars from the federal, state and local levels. The funds within the current Mississippi Adequate Education Program will follow a student to his school of choice.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the Senate bill will free students “trapped in failing districts with no options for a better education.”

Opponents fear draining scare educational resources away from districts will diminish the overall quality of education in the state, and possibly create a separate tier of schools for a choice few.

Under the Senate legislation, public charter schools could be allowed in any district in the state. However, the local school boards of districts rated as “star” or “high performing” by the state Department of Education also would have to give a stamp of approval to any charter school seeking to open within those top districts. The bill is similar to a plan approved by the Senate in February. However, this version allows school boards of districts rated as “successful” also to approve charter schools over the next four academic years.

Students attending public charter schools must comply with provisions of the Mississippi compulsory school attendance law, meet health and safety standards, and adhere to state testing model. This legislation does not require charter schools; it simply gives a community the option to support a public charter school to enter into their district.

The newly created commission will be comprised of appointees from the governor, lieutenant Governor and the superintendent of education. The commission will consider applications from charter school providers with a proven track record of success.


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