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(VIDEO) Business group launches charter school push as foes raise privatization fears

A lineup of high-profile Mississippi business people gathered at the Capitol Monday to launch a campaign to bring charter schools to every school district in Mississippi – provided the parents in the districts want them.

Mississippians overwhelmingly support widespread creation of charter schools as a remedy to the many ails of the state’s public schools, said the group Better Education for Mississippi.

It cited a survey it commissioned showing nearly 70 percent of the state’s voters support charter schools as an alternative to public schools. Opponents argue, however, that whatever support Mississippians hold for charter school formation is limited to establishing them in low-performing school districts.

Limiting charter schools to under-performing districts would hurt opportunities for improvement in high-performing districts, Better Education for Mississippi says. “Even in districts rated as ‘B’ and ‘C’ there are nearly 50,000 children in ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools.”

The group’s prime premise is that the innovation from charter schools would prod public schools into innovating as well. Better Education for Mississippi further holds that without giving parents the choice of charter schools, public school systems can’t be compelled to improve.

The business group survey conducted Nov. 26 through Dec. 2 sampled 2,580 “active” voters across Mississippi and included an oversample of voters in Desoto and Rankin counties.

The oversample for Desoto and Rankin counties is in response to claims by legislators in those counties that the majority of parents in the counties do not favor charter schools as a replacement for public schools. The poll found support for charter schools in Desoto and Rankin at 66 percent and 70 percent, respectively, says Better Education for Mississippi.

The poll further found that 65 percent of those surveyed want charter schools to be formed in any school district in the state.

Better Education for Mississippi is led by Joel Bomgar, founder & CEO of Ridgeland-based computer software company Bomgar Corp.

The group has a single focus, says Bomgar: Give parents the choice to send their children to schools chartered and funded by the state but free of the influences and doctrines of public education. “Until we provide that opportunity, our state’s public education system will cast about while our children remain trapped in some of the nation’s worst schools,” Bomgar said in a press statement.

“That’s not acceptable to us or over two-thirds of Mississippians,” he added.

The business leaders have taken on the advocacy role, Bomgar said, “because every single one of us employees people.”

Business can’t be successful without an educated workforce, he added.

The group includes Tony Bailey, CEO of BCI; Dave Dennis, president of Specialty Contractors; Joe Estess, president of Vector Transportation; Arty Finkelberg, senior VP of Raymond James; Bill Rayburn, CEO of FNC; Mike Retzer, president of Retzer Resources; Ken Leaks, former executive with Jitney Jungle & New Deal; John Marchetti, CEO of Marchetti, Robertson & Brickell Insurance & Bonding; Hu Meena, president & CEO of C Spire Wireless; Carl Nicholson, president & CEO of Nicholson & Company, PLLC; Leland Speed, chairman of EastGroup Properties; Cal Wells, founding partner of Wells, Moore, Simmons & Edwards, PLLC; Doug Wilson, president of Wilson Auto Group; Joey Havens, executive partner of Horne LLP; Lee Miller, CEO of Miller Transporters; Andy Taggart, founding partner of Taggart, Rimes & Usry, PLLC; Bill VanDevender, manager of CLAW Forestry Services; Kelly Williams, former CEO of ChemFirst; Joe Sanderson, CEO of Sanderson Farms; and Mark Smith, CEO of CPI Group.

Better Education for Mississippi says it will leave the framing of the new charter school system up to legislators, though it wants an authorizing board independent of the State Board of Education – as well as free of individual school boards – to oversee creation and performance of the charter schools.

The business leaders say they also want the charter schools open to all children in a school district, though a lottery system would have to be used when demand exceeds available slots.

Legislators came close to enacting charter school legislation last year, but the effort died in the closing days of the session. Opponents argue that a widespread system of charter schools could drain resources from public schools and further erode the quality of education public school children receive.

Some opponents have also raised concerns that a system of charter schools competing with public schools could set back Mississippi’s decades-long effort to desegregate its schools. Those fears are unfounded, according to Bomgar, who says the system his group envisions would ensure the racial and demographic makeup of the charter schools reflect the population of the districts in which they are located.

Opponents of charter school legislation such as The Parents Campaign have been sounding the alarms in recent days. “The sad truth is that you should be worried about what’s coming,” wrote Nancy Loome, executive director of the Jackson-based Parents Campaign, in an email blast.

Loome described the movement to put charter schools in districts across the state as an attempt to privatize education in Mississippi. Supporters are pursuing a “for-profit agenda” rather than considering alternatives that have been proven to advance student achievement,” she said.

Loome warned that virtual charter schools have made their way back into the new Senate charter bill and “neo-vouchers,” also called tax credit scholarships, are being proposed.

Lawmakers want to keep their work as low-profile as possible to minimize opposition, Loome charged in her email. “The word is that some in our Legislature don’t like the fact that we are telling you what they’re up to, and they are seeking ways to diminish our effort to keep you informed.


MBJ-TV: Better Education for Mississippi chairman Joel Bomgar addresses new poll by charter school advocacy group.



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