Too many questions in charter school bill

Published 9:57 am Friday, April 8, 2016

Generally speaking, school choice should be a good thing. As a state, we should want our children to get the best education possible, even if that is somewhere other than a traditional, public school.

More students will have more choices after the Senate voted on a bill that would allow students in school districts with academic ratings of C, D or F to cross district lines to attend charter schools elsewhere in the state. The state’s current charter school law says only students from within a public school district could enroll in a charter school there.

In other words, the students had to be from the public school district where the charter school is located. The new measure allows students to cross district lines to attend a charter school if their school district is rated a C, D or F.

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Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, argued that lawmakers should let parents choose, according to The Associated Press. “Their parent or guardian decides that’s the best for them, not you or me or any other senator.”

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said parents already have a choice.

“The issue is whether you’re entitled to get public tax money to take your child to another school,” he said.

The real issue here is funding, not school choice. And Bryan is correct. Parents can already send their children to a private school or homeschool them, so they already have choice. They just don’t necessarily have public funding to go with that choice.

The measure instructs the state to send an amount equal of a district’s locally raised per-student revenue to a charter school enrolling the student and withhold that amount from the district, AP reported. That effectively transfers local tax dollars to charter schools.

And that’s a tricky proposition. What will happen to those poor performing districts if a large number of students move to a charter school elsewhere and take their public funding with them? Do taxpayers have a say in how the charter schools operate, the same as they do in a public school district where school board members are elected or are appointed by an elected body?

With no evidence that charter schools in Mississippi outperform traditional public schools (there’s only a few in Jackson), the bill passed this week is premature. There are still too many questions left to answer