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Mississippi’s Charter School Law: A Sad But Sitting Duck for a Lawsuit

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A group claiming to work against poverty has filed a lawsuit against Mississippi’s fledgling and very modest charter school law that was intended to help poor kids. This is ironic at best, and harmful to kids, at worst. The Southern Poverty Law Center should be about eradicating poverty through the very foundation that holds the key to a child’s future and upward mobility – education! That great charter schools all over the nation are solving the achievement gap for the poor should be their model.

But then again, Mississippi’s charter school law was a sitting duck. sittingduck

As we argued when it was being debated, proponents should have demanded a law that allows for authorizing by school districts and universities, and provide for a high number of charters that could create a natural support base from the get-go. Allowing for institutions already publicly approved to spend taxpayer dollars to authorize charter schools not only avoids the creation of new bureaucracies but is legally sound.

Charter commissions, while held up as model, are fraught with challenges. In the few states that have them, commissions are becoming agents of charter-loathing state education departments who tack on more regulations and have narrow views of what innovation really is in public education.

That’s why we support and are advocating for strong laws that provide for multiple authorizers, a high or no cap on schools, fiscal equity and operational autonomy.

Laws that don’t provide for these are not laws worth having. They take just as much political capital to pass as does a pilot or weak law, but once enacted, they create more momentum to withstand increasing political pressure to roll back and over-regulate.

Like a weak-kneed bully who goes after the smallest kid on the block, Mississippi’s charter school cap of 15, its single bureaucratic authorizer and lack of meaningful funding made it a target, ripe for attack.

If we are always going to be challenged, then opportunity-minded reformers must fight for statewide charter laws that are both broad and deep. As one governor said to us recently, if we’re going to chase a rabbit, it might as well be a big one.

 

 

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