The state’s legislative watchdog agency says the board that oversees charter schools needs more funding.
It also says the Legislature needs to change the mechanism for that funding. Currently, three percent of state funds that go to charter schools is redirected to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, the group responsible for approving new charter schools and overseeing existing ones. There are currently three charter schools operating in the state, with another set to open in 2018.
Members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) say that amount is not enough to support the board’s operations, and the Legislature should consider giving the board a separate amount of money like any other agency. Alternately, the Legislature should create a line item in the Institution of Higher Learning’s appropriations bill specifically for the board, the committee’s annual analysis of charter school and board funding stated. The board’s funding is currently funneled through IHL’s appropriations.
The board was able to operate the past two years with additional funding from the state. The Legislature appropriated $440,000 to the board for the current fiscal year to cover administrative operation expenses. Of that amount, $190,000 came from the 3 percent fees received from charter schools.
“Until charter school enrollment reaches a level sufficient for the 3 percent fee combined with any gifts, grants or donations the board may receive is large enough to fully fund the board’s operations, supplemental legislative funding will continue to be required,” the report states.
House Speaker Philip Gunn indicated he supports giving the board more resources.
“Charter schools provide a quality educational opportunity for some students that don’t otherwise have that opportunity. For that reason, we want the authorizing board to have the tools they need to make sure that those students have that opportunity,” Gunn said.
A request for comment about the committee’s suggestions to Gov. Phil Bryant was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
The board’s responsibilities include soliciting and evaluating charter school applications, overseeing and evaluating existing charter schools, and developing policies and practices consistent with nationally recognized principles and standards for quality charter authorizing.
Mississippi’s charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations that appoint a board for the school. They receive public funding and are given more freedoms than traditional public schools, including autonomy over curriculum, instruction and scheduling, among other areas. Up to 25 percent of teachers in a public charter school are exempt from being certified when the charter application is first approved.
Three charter schools – Midtown Public, Reimagine Prep and Joel E. Smilow Prep – are currently operating in Jackson. Apart from an additional school that was delayed opening until the 2018-2019 school year, the board did not approve any additional schools to open in the near future.
One organization, Collegiate Academics, withdrew its application and said it will wait to see the outcome of a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center challenging charter schools’ funding.
In 2015-2016, Reimagine Prep received total funding — including local property taxes, federal funds, grants, gifts and other contributions — of $1.48 million. Midtown Public Charter School received about the same amount, $1.46 million.
The PEER committee is required by law to conduct an annual review of the sufficiency of funding for charter schools and the efficacy of the state formula for funding of the authorizer board. It is also responsible for making suggested changes in state law or policy that would strengthen the state’s charter schools, but did not do so in this report because charter schools only began operating in 2015.