Seeking to improve access to charter schools, Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and others spoke at a National School Choice Week rally weeks into this year’s legislative session.
Now, weeks before the legislative session ends, some of their goals are about to be achieved.
Senate Bill 2161, an amendment to the state’s charter-school law to allow students in C-, D- and F-rated district to cross district lines to attend charter schools in other school districts, has passed both houses and has returned to the Senate, which will consider any changes.
For students who cross district lines to attend a charter school in another district, the bill says that the Mississippi Department of Education shall pay that charter school property tax receipts and payments that would have gone to the local school district of each student enrolled.
For students enrolled in a charter school within their school district, the district would be the one to pay the charter school proportional property tax receipts and payments that would have gone to the school district.
House education committee chair Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, said he thinks the Senate will send the bill to the governor for signature.
“For many of them (D- and F-rated schools), it does not matter how much money you pour into that district, they still maintain a poor quality of education,” Moore said. “A charter school is just another option. It lets the parents decide if they would like to have another way to educate their children.”
Moore noted that among major education bills that died this session was a bill that would have granted students in C-, D- and F-rated districts permission to cross district lines and attend schools in an A- or B-rated district.
Sen. Gray Tollison, chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee and principal author of SB 2161, did not respond to requests for comment.
Grant Callen, founder and president of nonprofit Empower Mississippi, which advocates for charter schools among other things, said the nonprofit wants to make sure students have educational options available where they are needed.
“Particularly in the Delta, where you have a relatively low number of students in a lot of different districts, it would mean some of the communities that would benefit the most from a charter and the community seeking to start a charter were really discouraged from starting a charter because there just wasn’t enough of a student population in each district,” Callen said.
Callen also feels supporters of the bill have seen things become successful in charter schools that were implemented in traditional public schools in other states.
So far, the only two charter schools in the state — Reimagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School — are located in Jackson.
“I think we’ll see test scores for Jackson public schools improve as a result of both the innovation from these charter schools and the healthy sense of competition that we all want what’s best for kids,” Callen said.
Frank Yates, executive director of Mississippi Association of Educators, which advocates for public school education, said the bill would have a negative impact on revenue within C-, D- and F-rated school districts should it become law.
Yates said money that would originally be going to a student’s public school in that district would be going to a student’s charter school in another district should the bill become law.
“Each public school student who chooses to go to a charter school, that money no longer goes to the public school where they were attending.” Yates said. “Money that would normally go to the school district to support those students there, that money would no longer be there.”
Yates said he prefers that the state to fulfill its commitment to public schools financially via the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which became law in 1997 and sets a formula for determining the amount of spending needed to ensure an adequate education for every Mississippi child.
Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, another backer of expanding charter school access, said while state and local money could follow a child to a charter school, if the child’s educational needs are being met by their home school district then there would be nothing to worry about.
“It would only be those times when a child’s educational needs are not being met and the parents believe that a charter school in another district represents a better educational opportunity for their child,” Busby said.
Contributing: R.L. Nave