Getting a fix on how many students are moving back to Jackson Public Schools from public charter schools depends on who you ask.
The move to track students who return from charter schools to the Jackson Public School District has illustrated the challenges districts can have in effectively monitoring student mobility.
Officials with the district have said they will develop a better system next school year to track students who return to the district from charter schools. When asked for the information in recent months by a school board member, Jason Sargent, chief of staff of accountability and research, had to come up with a creative way to find that data.
In the 2016-2017 school year, a total of 36 charter school students withdrew from Reimagine Prep, Midtown Public Charter School and Smilow Prep to return to JPS as of the end of the school year, according to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. However, numbers produced by JPS estimated a higher number of returning students at 56, which district officials say is about a quarter of the total number of students who left the district for a charter school at the beginning of the year.
Sargent’s process involved taking the list of requests for cumulative records of students who had transferred from the district to charter schools. He then took the names on that list and plugged them back in to the system at the end of the year. The students who turned up in JPS’ system, he concluded, had returned from a charter school.
“That was the best way we could do it at the time (the data was requested). When our kids withdraw from our schools, the code just says ‘going to another public school in Mississippi,’ it doesn’t necessarily say which one,” Sargent said. “… It would be no different than trying to tell you how many students have gone to charter schools as to how many students have gone to Clinton, Madison or Rankin (schools).”
According to the document Sargent produced, a total of 206 students left JPS in the 2016-2017 school year to attend a charter school.
School-level data produced by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, the body that oversees charter schools in the state, shows the school with the highest number of returning students was Smilow Prep, which just finished its first year of operation. Of the 134 5th graders at the school, 24 withdrew. Nineteen of those 24 returned to JPS.
At Reimagine Prep, which enrolled 248 students last year, 21 withdrew. Ten of those students returned to JPS. Midtown Public Charter School, which enrolled 167 students last year, saw 10 students leave the school. Seven of those, four of whom were siblings, returned to JPS, according to Midtown Principal Josalyn Filkins.
Jon Rybka, chief executive officer of Smilow Prep’s parent charter network, RePublic Schools, said he is waiting until the schools have been in existence a few more years before drawing any conclusions about the numbers.
“This is the first time a lot of families are interacting with choice. Usually, you see a large amount of mobility in either early choice markets or mature choice markets like New Orleans,” Rybka said.
He also said when looking at mobility between charter schools and traditional public schools, it’s important to compare those rates to mobility rates within the district. However, in response to a public records request seeking those numbers for comparison, a legal department employee said JPS does not track the number of students who moved within the district from one school to another.
Rybka says in terms of Republic’s overall mobility rate, the organization’s goal is under 10 percent.
“I think the system will tolerate up to 20 percent. Anything above 20 percent is the red zone. Where Reimagine (Prep) is, that’s the zone I want to be in eventually for all of our schools,” he explained.
Reimagine Prep, another school RePublic operates in Jackson, was in its second year of operation last school year. It saw about 8 percent of its enrolled students leave the school, either because of a move by the family, a return to Jackson Public Schools or a transfer to a private school.
The preferred transfer rate by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board for charter schools is 7.5 percent or below, according to the board’s performance evaluation criteria.
Both JPS and charter school officials have complained that when students transfer between charter schools and traditional public schools, the funding does not immediately follow that student.
Officials with Midtown Public Charter School recently asked for a special waiver to expedite the per-pupil funds for an additional 36 students the school plans to admit in the fall. Because their 2017-2018 school year funding is based on projected enrollment numbers from December, those 36 students were not included in the calculation.
And Sharolyn Miller, chief financial officer for JPS, explained to board members at a recent meeting that while a child could enroll in one of the charter schools in August, he or she could come back in September. But that student would only be counted in the funding calculation for the following school year, not the current one. If the student returned in the second semester in January, he or she would not even be counted for the next school year, but instead the one following that.
“It’s really kind of a timing game,” she said.
Traditional public schools are funded each year based on average daily attendance of the previous year. That number is calculated during the first few months of the prior school year. Charter schools, on the other hand, are funded based on projected enrollment numbers for the following school year sent by the charter schools to the Mississippi Department of Education in May and December of the prior year.
Transfer numbers for charter schools in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017: