Oxford – The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board on Tuesday gave an update on the $15 million charter school grant and discussed the potential increase in charter applicants at their board meeting.

There are currently 10 organizations signed up to learn more about the request for proposal process and the charter school program grant. This information will be shared through a webinar hosted by the authorizer board.

“As a result of that, we are expecting an applicant pool and a pipeline for our 2018 request for proposal cycle that has the potential to be larger than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Sarah McMillian, Deputy Director the the board.

“We’re seeing potential for a number of candidates to go further in the process than we’ve seen in the past as well.”

In October, the authorizer board received a 5-year, $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help future charter schools with start-up costs such as hiring staff, teachers, and securing facilities and provide technical assistance to existing ones.

There are currently three charter schools in Mississippi, each located in Jackson; the authorizer board recently approved a fourth to open in Clarksdale next fall. Clarksdale Collegiate is currently the only one eligible for funds — if they meet the criteria.

The U.S. Department of Education has changed its approach in regards to handling the application process for the grant, said Marian Shutte, Executive Director of the authorizer board.

“We’re making sure that our policies, specifically related to enrollment align to the requirements for charter schools to receive those funds. They have certain roles related to lotteries and preferences that schools have to follow who receive those dollars,” said Shutte.

“So we want to make sure we are making sure the schools are coming forth and setting those enrollment policies to align with the federal guidelines so they’re eligible to receive those dollars.”

Previously, the department would approve or disapprove everything in the applications and require revisions, but now they will provide feedback to those agencies. The agencies will then determine how to incorporate the feedback, said Shutte. She went on to say the education department felt they had ‘”capacity concerns in their office” which resulted in holding up entities from moving forward with the application process.

“What we’re working with them on is a general guidelines document. They will approve that document and we will work with all of our charter schools to make sure they’re in line rather than the U.S. Department of Education approving the enrollment policies for every single school … them approving the guidance rather than the actual policies of each school,” said Shutte.

Shutte mentioned that they have been conducting interviews to hire someone to manage the grants. She said they have someone they’re interested in making an offer to soon.

On Tuesday the board also approved to release the 2018 request for proposals from  charter schools looking to open in the state after noting they received zero public comments on the draft for revisions. Starting Wednesday, the 2018 request for proposals will be released on the authorizer board website. The letters of intent and eligibility demonstration is due on March 6. The board won’t make a final decision until September 10.

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.