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Mississippi lawmakers Look To Loosen Charter School Law

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 26 Jan 2012 06:44pm | comments
Scott Shirey address law makers.

Mississippi's public education system could be shaken up during this legislative session. Law makers in Jackson are now considering altering the state's current charter school laws as a way of offering options to students in failing schools. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports.

A hearing room inside the state capitol was filled to capacity Thursday as a series of speakers from across the country made their case for charter schools to members of the house and senate education committees.

KIPP-Delta charter schools began operating on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi delta in 2002, and its executive director Scott Shirey says they have had success with their students that he believes could be replicated in Mississippi.

"There is no excuse. This can be done regardless of home circumstance, regardless of the county you are in, regardless of the demographic students can achieve," Shirey said.

Current law only allows for schools labeled as failing for three years to be converted to charter school...more than 130 Mississippi schools have one or two years of unsuccessful ratings.

Charter school advocates like Shirey want to be able to start from scratch and establish brand new schools.

Mississippi Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham is open to new charter schools, but says the state needs to oversee them.

"Creating structure, creating process, and clearly creating that those charters are going to be held to the same accountability standards that all children are held to in public schools and if they are not successful that there be a revocation process to withdraw that charter," Burnham said.

House education committee chair John Moore of Brandon says bringing in more charter schools could be an answer to consistently failing schools.

"We don't have a lot of time. We are losing children every year and we do not need to wait any further. It is time to move on it and correct any ills that are in our laws," Moore said.

The success of charter schools varies widely from state to state and school to school.

Senator David Jordan of Greenwood is skeptical of charter schools and says if the state loosens its charter school law, it should start with a limited number of schools to test their effectiveness.

"Don't just jump in it simply because it is an alternative. Because we don't have the resources to be doing that. We don't have the resources. We haven't even fully funded MAEP," Jordan said.

MAEP is the formula the state uses to determine adequate education funding.

At least one charter school bill has already been submitted in the Senate and it is likely that more will be submitted in both chambers before the bill filing deadline next month.



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