‘Charter’ bill could aid MSA’s survival

Published 6:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2005

A bill passed by the Senate to create charter schools provides”options” for the Mississippi School of the Arts, officialssay.

Operating as charter schools would enable MSA and theMississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus to seekfederal and private grants not available to public schools.

State Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, – who was named HouseEducation Committee chairman earlier this week, said he had notseen the Senate bill but supported the charter school concept.Brown said he has worked on a subcommittee in the past studying thepossibilities of charter schools.

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Charter school status could greatly improve MSA’s chances ofsurviving a “severe” state funding shortage, Brown said.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult to fully fund theschool of the arts, and even the education budget,” he said. “Itjust has to compete like any other program.”

Brown said there is no strong opposition to keeping the schoolopen but “it all comes down to money.”

“We’re looking at all the options,” he said. “I think you willsee some level of reasonable allocation to the school. Whether thatallocation is reasonable to (school officials) is a matter ofconjecture.”

One option for MSA is to become a charter school if the Senatebill passes the House, he said.

Rules regulating charter schools are generally less strict thanthose of other public schools and charter schools have more freedomin attracting national endowments and foundation grants, Brownsaid.

As an example, Brown said, charter schools are allowed to chargetuition whereas public schools cannot.

School officials have already been discussing charging aresidential fee at MSA to help meet costs. Although MSA cannotcharge for instructional expenses as a public school, it can chargefor its services that provide room and board to the students, wholive at the school.

The Senate bill, which passed on a 28-9 vote, would allow up tofive charter schools annually for the first three years. It wouldpermit as many as 10 charter schools per year in succeedingyears.

An organization trying to create a charter school would have topresent an organizational charter and school curriculum forapproval by the Department of Education, Brown said. In addition,they must provide the facilities to host the school.

Charter schools would still be required to meet the federal NoChild Left Behind Act and the State Accountability Act standards,he said.

Since most schools receive their funding based on their averagedaily attendance, Brown said, that state money would follow thechild to provide funding for the charter school.

“This will not cost the state any extra money, but it couldimpact local school districts,” he said. “It’s designed to giveparents who are not satisfied with their local schools anoption.”

Charter schools have “been wildly successful” in some states,Brown said, but added that the program has also performed poorly inother states.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said he had notseen the bill nor heard much about it before today.

“We’ll look at it when it gets here (to the House),” he said.”I’ll support it if it helps the arts school.”