Charter school officials accepted a multi-million grant Monday, which means future schools approved in Mississippi will have the opportunity to apply for thousands of dollars to help with start-up costs.
Mississippi is one of nine states to receive funds through a federal program called Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. At a meeting Monday, Authorizer Board executive director Marian Schutte told members how the money will be used.
Last month the Authorizer Board announced a 5-year, $15 million grant from The U.S. Department of Education to help get future charter schools off the ground and provide technical assistance to existing ones.
Schutte said the first two years of funding are guaranteed, and the additional years are based on performance with the grant.
Ninety percent of the funds are designated to assist approved charter schools with start up costs like transportation or hiring staff.
“We know that this is often an issue for many of our charter schools who have proposed applications and proposals to us, because they don’t receive any MAEP or local funding until at least July the year before they open,” Schutte said. “So they will be able to receive funds for salaries, enrollment activities, to kind of help them.”
Schutte said the schools can use the funds on any fees related to starting up aside from construction.
“It means that prospective applicants now can be much more confident that if their charter is approved, they will be able to have the resources to plan and implement their school in the early years,” said Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First in an interview earlier this month.
Mississippi First is a nonprofit advocate for school reform, including development of charter schools. The organization is one of the authorizer board’s partners in the grant program.
Canter said the grant is a “tremendous opportunity” for the charter schools, which often face unique funding challenges. A charter school may eventually serve kindergarten through grade five, but during the first year only serve kindergarten up to grade two or three and add a grade one school year at a time.
“That means that a lot of the up-front costs that charters have, they don’t have those per pupil dollars from the state because they have less students than they will have eventually,” she said.
Clarksdale Collegiate is the only school currently eligible for the funds — the Authorizer Board approved their application on Sept. 11 to open for the 2018-19 school year.
Earlier this month, Clarksdale Collegiate Executive Director Amanda Johnson told Mississippi Today that she will “definitely apply” for grant funding to help get the charter school up and running.
“Essentially what it means particularly in our start-up phase, that money is essential to us being able to accomplish all of the tasks that need to happen this year,” Johnson said.
The money would help her recruit teachers and students and plan transportation, she said. Before the state won the grant, she intended to hire a director of operations in March based on “the modest fundraising we had done so far.”
“With this money we will be able to hire someone pretty much immediately,” she said.
Schutte said grantees can receive up to $900,000 over a three year period.
The other 10 percent of the funding is designated for administration and technical assistance for charter school applicants. Schutte said some of the administrative funds will be used to hire a grants operator for the Authorizer Board.