All eyes on charter schools - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

All eyes on charter schools

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

With the expected addition of charter schools to Mississippi's educational system, some parents are left wondering what they are. Senate education committee chairman Gray Tollison says beyond what they are, they'll provide a competitive option for education.

"The Concept of a public charter schools is just to provide and bring some innovation into our public school system," said Sen. Tollison, a republican from Oxford.

While a charter school is in fact a public school, there are some differences. A state board would have to authorize charter schools to establish themselves through a contract. That contract would give charter schools flexibility in determining how to meet student needs and lay out the goals of the school.

"In essence, it's a guarantee that this school will teach kids well or they close," said Forest Thigpen with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Thigpen says in exchange for that flexibility, charter schools are held to a high level of accountability and achievement. Charters have the same testing, audit and civil rights requirements as traditional schools and can not charge tuition to attend. They can not reject students and if too many students apply, there must be a lottery.

"If a community and parents and students want it, this gives them an option if they're not happy with their current school system," said Sen. Tollison.

A charter school would not replace a current school and they'll be funded just like traditional schools. The money the state spends on each child would follow that child to the school of their choice. Thigpen says while there may be some misunderstandings about what a charter school is, they're certainly not a new concept. Forty one states already have charter school laws. Nearly two million students are enrolled in about 6,000 charter schools across the country.

"In states that have had charter schools for a while, a lot of people still don't understand what they are because they're a little bit different," said Thigpen.

Under current house and senate bills, a private school would not be able to convert to a charter.

The current house bill goes as far as only allowing 15 charter schools to open a year.

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