House Education Committee Barely Passes Amended Charter Bill
The House Education Committee has passed an amended version of the charter school bill on a 14 to 12 vote. Debate was intense. Many committee members expressed deep concerns about the provision that allows virtual charter schools and about the financial impact that such a broad charter school bill could have on an already stretched public education system.
The House leadership did make some positive changes that improve the bill.
Unfortunately, the worst part of the bill - virtual charter schools - was actually made even worse by an amendment. What was called a "virtual public charter school" in the original bill is now called a "virtual public school," and because the amendment calls for them to "contract" with the authorizer, rather than being granted a charter (which is a contract), the virtual public school can bypass the requirement that the organization have a track record of success - something that is very convenient for outfits with as terrible a track record as the virtual charters.
Any student in any district (High Performing and Star included) may attend a virtual school, and the state and local funding would follow. The amendment does cap the amount of local funding that could flow to a virtual charter at 2% of a district's total local funding - the equivalent of 2 out of every 100 students in your district. At thousands of dollars per student, that's a lot of local funding flowing to a really bad school. The amendment also broadens the use of these virtual schools to any public school - not just charters.
The virtual school companies that are pushing so hard to get into Mississippi have a horrible track record. Their executives have pocketed a fortune in tax dollars in the states that have let them in, and they have moved student achievement backward. Read about it here. We cannot afford to let them into Mississippi. We must be prudent with our tax dollars.
Allowing (and expanding) virtual charter schools - no matter what they call them - makes this bill unacceptable, particularly given that the virtuals are exempted from the requirement to have a good track record.
The bill is expected to go before the full House for a vote on Thursday at 2:00 p.m.
Please ask your representative to amend the bill to PROHIBIT virtual charter schools or vote against the bill.
Capitol Switchboard: 601.359.3770
Please ask House Speaker Philip Gunn to support an amendment to PROHIBIT virtual charter schools, as well. You can reach Speaker Gunn at 601-359-3300.
There were some positive changes made to the bill. Those amendments:
Restrict slightly where charter schools can locate - While the amendment does not focus charters only in chronically underperforming school zones, it does take a step in that direction by keeping them out of high performing and star school districts. This move avoids creating more schools where we already have some of our best public schools.
Require a proven track record of success from charter school management organizations - This amendment increases significantly the likelihood that charters will be granted only to charter school companies that have a proven record of improving student achievement. We can't afford to waste scarce taxpayer dollars on inexperienced "mom and pop" charter organizers who don't know what they are doing.
If we can eliminate virtual charter schools, we will have a pretty good charter school bill, a means of providing children who are trapped in underperforming schools a better option while protecting taxpayers from funding more bad schools.
Here's an interesting, little-known fact about charters: each charter that is granted will create a new school district. That's right, both the House and Senate charter bills say that each charter granted will function as a "local educational agency" - a school district. Let's be sure that any school districts that are added in Mississippi are (1) needed and (2) high quality.
Please help us get the bill amended to prohibit virtual charter schools so we can move a good bill forward. Our kids deserve it, especially those trapped in underperforming schools. Call your representative tomorrow morning (Thursday) with the request to amend the bill or vote against it.