April 26, 2012

It appears that all of the charter school proposals are dead for this legislative session. These bills were defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the House with the support of hundreds of school board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and civic leaders across the state. The public is entitled to know why the legislation failed. There were numerous objections to the proposals. Here are a few:

?The legislation set up a new board to run the charter program. The board would hire an executive director to run day to day operations. There were no qualification requirements for the director in the legislation, and, unlike every other state agency director in Mississippi, the new director would not be subject to Senate confirmation. The new board would clearly be duplicative and costly. We already have a state board of education. We also have a State Superintendent of Education with statutorily required qualifications and who has to be confirmed by the Senate.

? No matter who administers the program, charter schools will cost additional money. The legislation would require the new board to carry out a number of administrative duties which would require additional staff and funding. The same would be true if the current board runs the program. However, because the State Department of Education has experienced staff and systems in place, any charter program can be monitored most efficiently by that agency.

?Under the proposed law, the new board could give charter schools a blanket exemption from virtually all state education laws. Among those are the laws against bullying, prohibitions against nepotism, rules regarding suspension and expulsion of students, the requirement that principals be bonded, the provisions for dual high school/ college dual enrollment and compulsory school attendance laws to name a few. These exemptions are being pushed by lobbyists who do not want charter schools to comply with any state laws.

?There would be no limit on the number of charters granted. By 2015 they could be located in almost any district in the state, including those labeled “Successful” by the state Board of Education.

?Charter schools would have the option to buy or lease surplus public school properties at below fair market value. These charter schools would be non-governmental, private entities. There should be some limits on how much public property they could take at favorable prices.

?The proposals require no public notice of a charter application, nor would there be an opportunity for public input. Those who live in districts to be affected by charter schools should have an opportunity to comment on the charter applications.

?There would be virtual immunity for charter school board members from civil lawsuits. Existing school boards do not have such immunity, and there is no good reason to grant it to these new boards.

? All administrators would be exempt from professional certification requirements. Surely someone who is running the school should have some background in school administration.

?One-half of the teachers in a charter school would be exempt from teacher certification requirements. This provision is potentially a violation of No Child Left Behind and could jeopardize federal funds.
The bottom line is that the bills that were before the House were ill-conceived and poorly drafted. In my opinion, Mississippi will eventually have charter schools in a few districts, and they can be helpful in achieving our goal of providing quality educational opportunities for all children. But in order to pass legislation, those who are pushing it will have to listen to those Democrats, Republicans and members of the public who have concerns and learn to compromise.

Cecil Brown
House of Representative, District 66