Pro-Charter School Groups Unite in Mississippi

Now that Mississippi has passed a law allowing the creation of public charter schools, those who have advocated its passage have banded together to form an organization to help get the state's nascent school choice movement off the ground. The group, called the Mississippi Charter School Association, will work to translate the law, which goes into effect next week, into actual operating charter schools.

According to the Clarion Ledger, the first step for the group will be to recruit nationally prominent charter operator companies into the state to make proposals. However, of those who attended the association's first meeting, 75 people were more excited about the idea of Mississippi charters operated by locals.

Doris Phillips, of Gloster, for example, said she and others in her town would like to create a charter school to replace the public school that was closed two years ago by the Amite County school district in a consolidation move. But that could be hard because there are only about 1,000 students attending all of the Amite County schools now, and under the current law a Gloster charter couldn't reach across the line into nearby Wilkinson County to recruit more students.

One of the largest, oldest and most successful charter operators, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), had a representative at the meeting who indicated an interest in opening up a Mississippi charter. However, Scott Shirley, who is the executive director of Arkansas-based KIPP, also said that first the company will need to fully analyze the restrictions set out by the new law such as regulations regarding students moving between districts and the requirement that 75% of charter teachers be certified by the state.

Another attendee, Jennie Sturgis, who runs a daycare center in Jackson, voiced a desire to add to her business by operating a K-3 charter school. In her words, the school's goal would be to "catch students before they become a failure."

Enthusiasm levels were running high, but those who have worked in charters in other states tried their best to temper them. Ken Campbell, whose group Black Alliance for Educational Options was one of the charter bill's supporters, was blunt when he said that enthusiasm for school choice alone did not make one qualified to actually open and operate a charter school. He added, however, that there were roles to play even for those who weren't going to be directly involved in the new charter efforts.

"That's not a bad thing. There are other ways to support this process."

Next up will be appointing a seven-member authorizing board to solicit and approve charter school applications. Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves each get three appointments, while the state superintendent of education gets one.
The board would begin operations Sept. 1 and seek proposals for schools by Dec. 1.

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