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

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

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Princeton Charter vs. District

When the NJ Commissioner of Education approved the Princeton International Academy Charter School (PIACS), he probably didn’t know that the district would fight so vigorously to thwart his authority – and the Governor’s authority by extension – so vehemently. But this small, Mandarin-English dual language immersion, inquiry-based framework with international math standards has given the district power brokers so much aggravation that they’ve convinced the municipality not to approve PIACS’s ability to secure a facility for which they have not only the funds, but the students willing to attend starting next year.

This is not a new blocking tactic. It happens nationwide, but many don’t have the bandwidth to fight. Not Princeton.

Rather than sit down and take it, PIACS has filed suit, asking the Commissioner to block the district’s use of public monies to thwart the opening of a new public school. He’s bucked it to an administrative law judge, which may or may not play in the schools’ favor. But perhaps it’s time for the bold and talented Governor Chris Christie to vocalize in support of this school’s right to exist, and NJ parents’ right to make that choice. Because no amount of legal maneuvering will ever stop the Blob. It takes political muscle.

To get more information about the Princeton Charter, go to www.piacs.org.

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