Thigpen discusses Charter Schools with REPM

From staff and press reports


The Mississippi Charter Schools Act lists 32 requirements that must be addressed in the application, said Forest Thigpen, a charter schools advocate and president of the Jackson-based Mississippi Center for Public Policy think tank and a member of the newly formed Mississippi Coalition for Public Charter Schools.

Thigpen recently outlined those 31 requirements along with a host of other information on charter schools to the Retired Educational Personnel of Mississippi group in Winston County.

Thigpen noted the process for creating a charter school is difficult but necessary.

“There is a place for charter schools to be in place in Mississippi,” said Thigpen.

He noted that the requirements included specific details of the proposed school’s mission and vision, its budget and cash flow, evidence of need and community support, how students will be chosen, and a description of the school’s instructional design.

“This is not something where anyone can turn in an application,” said Thigpen.

Thigpen outlined that a charter school is still a publicly funded independent school established by teachers, parents or community groups under the terms of a charter with state authorities.

“It (charter school) has to have community support,” said Thigpen. “There has to be a need and support.”

According to Thigpen the advantage of a charter school is that it is freed from many of the regulations traditional public schools must follow. The charter school creators do have to meet the performance goals set out in its charter.

Charter Schools must meet most Mississippi public school requirements, including state-mandated testing and measuring of students’ achievement, being rated in the state’s accountability system, having their finances audited by the state, and following all federal laws. Also, charter schools can only accept students from the school district in which they’re located.

The greater freedoms charter schools have are the fact that charters can employ teachers during their first three years of operation who aren’t certified by the state, although 75 percent of them must be certified the first year, and 100 percent by the third year. Teachers can be fired at will and they don’t qualify for state retirement.

Thigpen noted that this allows the charter schools to run more efficiently by getting rid of a bad teacher quickly.

Thigpen explained that while the charter schools can raise money the funds a public school district receives from the state and federal government “follow the child.” The charter schools would be receiving public funds for each child they are educating which is cut from the school district they are competing against.

“Most funds follow the child,” said Thigpen.

The law sets up a seven-member, a board appointed by the governor, Lt. governor and Department of Education. The board is charged with approving or rejecting a founding team’s application to begin a charter school.

If an application is approved in a district rated D or F in the state Department of Education’s accountability system, a school can form despite objections by that school district, the law says.

But if an application is approved to open a charter in a district labeled A-C, the school’s founders must get permission from the local school board.

The law also limits 15 approvals annually “to give the authorizing board time to get on its feet and to grow,” Thigpen said. “You’re not taxing that board so much that they’re approving new schools while they’re trying to make sure the first 15 are doing all right.”

Thigpen added that across the country are good and bad charter schools and he hoped if a bad charter school got started in Mississippi that the board would close it or remove it.

Thigpen noted that he believed charter schools could help the children of Mississippi and could succeed in Mississippi.

“I believe they (charter schools) will work,” said Thigpen. “We need to get it (education) done right for the children.”

Nationwide, 5,714 charter schools enrolled 1.9 million children during the 2011-12 school year, according to the national Center for Education Reform.

Thigpen also provided an overview of the new law which included:

Miss. Charter schools: At a glance

Charter schools are public and nonprofit. They can’t charge tuition or have a religious affiliation. 
Private schools can’t convert to charter schools, and virtual charter schools are prohibited. 
For-profit charter school organizations aren’t allowed to operate a Mississippi charter school on their own or under contract with the school. 
Charter schools must accept all students who apply. If there’s not enough room, names are drawn. 
A seven-member Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board is appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and state superintendent of education. 
Applications will be accepted after Dec. 1. The application board must be named by Sept. 1, with the board formally meeting as soon as possible. The board must render a decision on applications no later than 180 days after they’re submitted, and has the authority to say no to parts of an application, but still give overall approval. 
Every charter contract is based on measuring and improving student achievement and growth, achievement gaps, college and career readiness, and other factors. If a school’s goals aren’t reached, the authorizing board can close it. 
Every teacher and administrator must hold a college degree and demonstrate competency in the area in which each will teach. 
Funding follows a child from a regular public school to a charter, including federal and local funding except for local taxes devoted to paying off bonds and other obligations. Charters receive no funding for buildings or facilities and must obtain their own classroom space.

Thigpen also explained at the meeting that the seven member board had yet to be appointed.

The board would begin operations Sept. 1 and seek proposals for schools by Dec. 1.

Governor Phil Bryant recently appointed his three persons to the board.

Gov. Bryant Names Three Members to Charter School Board

Gov. Phil Bryant today appointed three members to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, the board responsible for approving and overseeing public charter schools in Mississippi. Each of the governor’s appointees represents a Mississippi Supreme Court District, and each appointee will serve a four-year term beginning September 1.

Johnny Franklin will represent Supreme Court District 1, Chris Wilson will represent Supreme Court District 2 and Krystal Cormack will represent Supreme Court District 3.

“At the close of this legislative session, I signed my Education Works measures into law, launching powerful education reform momentum in Mississippi,” Gov. Bryant said. “These policies will benefit students of all ages by targeting improvements in literacy, teacher quality, college and career readiness, early childhood education and school choice.

“We are raising the bar for all public schools, and that includes allowing families to choose the best possible education for their children. Charter schools will provide new opportunities in Mississippi, and the members of this authorizing board will play an important role in establishing successful public charter schools in our state.

“These appointees bring a wealth of diverse experience to the table, and I am confident Mississippi will benefit from their expertise.”

The seven-member authorizing board was established earlier this year when Gov. Bryant enacted House Bill 369, the Mississippi Charter Schools Act. Under the law, which is part of Bryant’s Education Works agenda, the authorizing board can approve up to 15 qualified public charter school applications each fiscal year. Applications to locate a public charter school within the boundaries of a school district rated A, B or C by the Mississippi Department of Education must receive majority support from the local school board. The charter board is also responsible for overseeing charter school operations and deciding whether to renew or revoke charter contracts.

The appointments will be brought before the Mississippi Senate for confirmation during the 2014 regular legislative session.