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Charter schools backers say new approach needed

by Marquita Brown
Jackson Clarion Ledger
March 3, 2012

While state lawmakers debate how best to make allowances for charter schools in Mississippi, some people are still questioning why traditional public schools can’t be given the same freedoms.

It’s a question Tracie James-Wade asked Friday during a forum on charter schools at Koinonia Coffee House in Jackson.

James-Wade said her concern is the cost of opening charter schools in an already cash-strapped public school system. The traditional public schools that are performing well should be used as models for duplication across the state, she said.

“Why have a model school that you never duplicate?” James-Wade asked.

But charter school supporters argue traditional public schools have had decades to figure out what works best to boost student achievement.

“The problem is how we operate schools, and that is what charters are one solution to,” Jeanne Allen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, told The Clarion-Ledger last week.

The differences between charter schools and traditional public schools, she said, include how teachers are hired, retained and paid and how textbooks are chosen. All the money and time can be put into the traditional public school system, “but nothing very good happens in that school, nothing changes in that school.”

Like traditional schools, public charter schools do not charge tuition. Charters can be newly formed schools or they can be converted from existing public schools. Both bills getting most attention at the state Capitol include provisions for conversion schools, and lawmakers supporting those bills have said they hope that is the option most charter applicants take.

Charter school advocates say one major selling point is freedom from bureaucracy. Each school operates independently instead of being governed by a central office of administrators.

State representatives still need to take up House Bill 888, which would allow charter schools across the

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Charter schools funding hot issue

“Charter schools funding hot issue”
by Marquita Brown
Jackson Clarion Ledger
February 29, 2012

As state lawmakers work to relax requirements for opening charter schools in Mississippi, the unanswered question is can the state afford both or will it leave both underfunded.

Today, the House Education Committee will take up House Bill 888, which includes broader allowances for charter schools. Last week, the Senate passed SB 2401 that would allow charter schools in every Mississippi school district with some restrictions.

If a district has enough demand for a charter school, the state and local dollars should follow the child, said John Moore, chairman of the House Education Committee and principal author of HB 888.

The problem with the argument that scarce resources would be spread over a larger group of students is “you’re not increasing the number of kids,” said Moore, R-Brandon.

Critics of those groups are no longer in a fixed group. Most charter schools cap their enrollment, meaning some students who might have wanted to attend the new school can’t and would likely remain in traditional public schools, which would then be operating with less money.

“Mississippi has very scarce resources. We can’t afford to fund schools at the level that most people would acknowledge they need to be funded,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of the Parents’ Campaign. That’s also true for other public service agencies, she said.

Loome, who heads a network of more than 60,000 people, said she has heard from parents of students in home schools and in private schools who are interested in charter schools. Adding more students to the mix leads to less funding for all students and a less efficient use of resources, she said.

Superintendents of traditional public schools have said they increased class sizes, postponed building maintenance, made due with outdated textbooks, cut central office staff and,

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One is the loneliest number

sesamestreet1When is a charter law not a charter law? When is a charter school not a charter school?

Ask Mississippi.

Like a thief in the night, July 1st of this year came and went, slipping out the back door with the Magnolia State’s charter law as legislators allowed it to sunset without even a word.

Nobody seemed to notice. Not the press. Not the bloggers. Not the major edreform players. We didn’t even mention it, but in our defense, it was really hot that day and we were planning a cookout.

Another group that likely missed the significance of the loss of the law: the faculty and students of Mississippi’s lone charter school – The Hayes Cooper Center.

The school was basically a glorified magnate school, did not have true autonomy and was tied to the school district in so many ways as to make it indistinguishable from its conventional counterparts.

Each year, we analyze and grade the country’s charter school laws, assigning a letter grade to each.  Last year, Mississippi received an ‘F’ with an analysis that placed it last among the (then) 41 laws.

Certainly, The Hayes Cooper Center probably didn’t feel much different as kids ran out to greet the first day of Summer than it did when they trudged back for Fall classes.

And it was Mississippi’s weak law – one that its lead architect later referred to as “the sorriest” in the nation – that allowed this to happen.

The ‘Race to the Top’ competition has placed a national spotlight on charter schools and charter legislation as lawmakers everywhere begin to tinker with theirs in order to polish them up before the Department of Education passes judgment in the Spring.

Will their laws shine any brighter than Mississippi’s? Certainly. But, while the

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