Thigpen talks charter schools

From staff reports

The Retired Education Personnel of Miss. (REPM) in Winston County discussed the hot topic of Charter Schools during its December 6 meeting.

Forest Thigpen of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy discussed and answered questions on charter schools and the educational opportunities that may be brought to Mississippi.

Thigpen said Mississippi parents should have options that are available in more than 30 other states including Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. “We believe it is fundamentally wrong for the government to tell parents they must send their children to schools that do not meet their needs. That’s what (the current system does) to families who can’t afford to move to another district or send their children to a private school or to home school,” he said.

Thigpen added that new start charter schools have the strongest track record of success in the charter school movement, limiting charter authorization only to public conversions will limit the potential success of charter schools as an education reform tool in Mississippi.

He noted that 2013 could bring a new charter school law, and supporters are working on proposals presently. According to Thigpen, under past proposals schools that are chartered get more operational freedom in exchange for agreeing to meet certain goals. Under current Mississippi law, only schools with subpar ratings for three consecutive years can be chartered, and only at parents’ request. No school in the state has been chartered under those rules.

Supporters like Thigpen are advocating a more permissive law. Of course, Thigpen noted that lawmakers will have to decide whether only the state will grant charters or whether others will also be able to create such schools. Also to be decided when the Legislature convenes: whether to only convert failing schools or allow new charter schools to be founded.

“We think the likelihood of a charter bill passing the House and Senate is very good, and we’d like to have a good charter school bill,” said Thigpen.

Many of the questions Thigpen addressed to the REPM group focused on: Who gets to authorize charter schools, How will the charter schools success be measured,and would teachers would get the same pay and benefits as they do in regular public schools.

According to Thigpen, schools that are chartered are supposed to get more freedom in exchange for agreeing to meet certain goals. In exchange, the group that runs the school signs a contract, or charter, promising to meet certain goals.

“This is a good way to give parents and the public more choice in public schools,” said Thigpen.

Several audience members questioned the results of charter schools in other states.

“This is a system that can work best for the very students who are struggling,” said Thigpen.

Detractors point to studies that show charter school academic results nationwide are not better than regular public schools, and in some cases are worse.

Nationwide, there are 5,600 charter schools enrolling more than 2 million students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Mississippi is among 40 states that allow charter schools. But the state has none, unlike the other 39 states.

Under Mississippi law, a school that doesn’t meet state standards for three years in a row can be chartered if a majority of parents vote to seek an application to convert the school to new management. The law is only two years old. As many as 82 schools could become eligible for chartering after the end of this school year, when grades for a third year are added. But the earliest a converted school could open is the start of the 2013-2014 school year, if the state Board of Education grants a charter.

In addition to the lengthy discussion and debate on charter schools, REPM president Joe Wylie noted the Winston County Chapter earned for the 5th straight year an award for membership growth and had over 165 members at present. The group also recognized Harold Hudson for 38 years of service to education.

The next REPM meeting is set for Jan. 3, 2013 in the Louisville City Hall at 1:00 PM with the featured speaker Clay Bane, Miss Bureau of Investigation of the Miss. Highway Patrol and other patrolmen who graduated from the Winston Co. Public Schools. Bain will discuss the duties of an investigator.