Tommie Cardin, chair of the state Charter School Authorizer Board Credit: Butler Snow LLP

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The final hopeful this year for a new charter school was rejected by a state board on Monday, raising concerns that the decision could discourage other groups from coming to Mississippi.

The Charter School Authorizer Board on Monday voted 4-2 to deny the application of Ohio-based I Can Schools. That group was the last of four applicants this year to begin new charter schools.

Collegiate Academies withdrew its application last month after a lawsuit was filed challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi charter schools’ funding. The organization said it plans to reapply with the same timeline for opening a charter school pending the lawsuit’s outcome.

Shades of Elegance, which proposed a K-12 program in Drew, and Excellence 2000, a Dallas-based group with hopes of opening a charter school in Jackson, did not make it to the final stages of the application process earlier this year.

“I’m having a hard time getting to the point of being able to satisfy myself that there’s clear evidence of statistically significant gains and (they are) consistently producing proficiency levels,” Board Chair Tommie Cardin said during the discussion of I Can Schools’ application.

Mississippi’s charter school law requires that companies wanting to open charter schools in Mississippi show “clear evidence” of “statistically significant gains in student achievement or consistently produced proficiency levels as measured on state achievement test.”

The board has approved the opening of four charter schools since 2014. Three – ReImagine Prep, Midtown Public Charter School, Smilow Prep – are in operation this year. A fourth, Smilow Collegiate, will open next year. All are located in Jackson.

Cardin and other members who voted to deny I Can the chance to open one school in Jackson cited a report that highlighted inconsistency of academic outcomes in the organization’s eight schools.

“Student performance results from ICS schools serving a study body with demographics comparable to that which MPS (Mississippi Preparatory School) anticipates enrolling in Jackson shows that ICS schools are achieving at varying levels of proficiency in math and reading, and that only half of the schools in ICS’ portfolio are outperforming the local school district,” the report read.

Board member Karen Elam, who voted to approve I Can Schools to open one school in Jackson with contingencies, said denying the application sends the wrong message to other charter school groups.

“We have gotten so narrow that I think I would – if I were opening a number of charter schools, such as KIPP, I would say ‘Why bother with Mississippi? There are plenty of places that would welcome us to open our operations,’” Elam said. “Mr. (Johnny) Franklin and I are concerned we’re missing the opportunity to serve some kids that really need it.”

Twelve groups applied to open schools in the 2014 application cycle. The number has continued to shrink down to four this year.

Krystal Cormack, who was named Monday as the new chair of the board, said the disappointing results from Midtown Public Charter School and ReImagine Prep on their first year of state tests illustrate the need for stricter standards.

“They still had a very tough challenge and tough road ahead with moving students from where they currently were when they first started at the two charter schools to where they are now,” Cormack said. “So I think the onus is on the board to continue to be strict in our authorizing process.”

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.