I don’t believe in U.F.O.’s.
Nor do I believe that the world’s economy is ruled by a secret order of reptilian humanoids.
But I do believe that there is a war on public education in our country and that my beloved state is at the forefront of it. For proof of this, look no further than House Bill 369, which was passed by the Mississippi Senate last week and is very close to becoming law.
4/8/14 UPDATE: HOUSE BILL 369, “THE MISSISSIPPI CHARTER SCHOOLS ACT OF 2013”, BECAME LAW AND WENT INTO EFFECT JULY 1, 2013. AMAZINGLY, THE FOLLOWING LANGUAGE REMAINED IN THE BILL AND IS NOW LAW.
If you don’t have time to read the sixty-five page bill, here is a synopsis:
Exemption from Title 37…
Lines 370-375: “The authorizer may exempt charter schools from the provisions of Title 37, Mississippi Code of 1972, which relate to the elementary and secondary education of public school students, unless those provisions are specifically made applicable to charter schools by the authorizer in the charter contract or by this act.”
Translation: “Title 37, Mississippi Code of 1972” is, basically, the entire set of laws that govern every public institution of learning in Mississippi. Lines 370-375 remove charter schools from these laws, unless the state authorizer board takes it upon themselves to include them. If the laws of Title 37 are a hindrance to student achievement, why not change these laws?
Lines 389–393: “To cover costs for overseeing public charter schools in accordance with this act, the authorizer shall receive three percent (3%) of annual per-pupil allocations received by the public charter school from state and local funds for each public charter school it authorizes.”
Translation: That’s 3% per-pupil that would have gone to the students of local school districts. Instead, that money comes out of local school district budgets and goes to the state’s charter school authorizer board via charter schools.
The enrollment of special needs children into charter schools…
Lines 470-480: “The [charter] school’s plans successfully serving students with disabilities (including all of the school’s proposed policies pursuant to the individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 USC Section 1400 et seq., Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 USC Section 794, and Title 11 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 USC Section 12101 et seq., and the school’s procedures for securing and providing evaluations and related services pursuant to federal law), students who are English language learners, students who are academically behind, and gifted students, including, but not limited to, compliance with applicable laws and regulations;”
Translation: While this language sounds good, it essentially leaves full discretion to the authorizer board regarding exactly how many special needs students a charter school must accept. The only requirement here is that a prospective charter operator must present a “plan” for special needs kids to the authorizer. The reference here to various federal laws essentially says, “If you enroll special needs kids, you must do everything required by federal law to educate and care for them.” But it says nothing about requiring charter schools to accept all who apply.
Why not insert language that requires charters to enroll the exact percentage of special needs students who are enrolled in the local school district?
The enrollment of at-risk students into charter schools…
Lines 176-181: “The at-risk composition of the charter school enrollment shall reflect that of students in similar grades as determined by the most recent census data for school-aged students for the school district in which the charter school is located, to be defined for the purposes of this act as differing by no more than twenty-five percent (25%) from that population.”
Translation: Let’s say “School District A” has 6,000 students. Let’s say that 50% of those students are deemed “at-risk” by the U.S. Census Bureau. That comes out to 3,000 students. Let’s say a charter school opens up near District A. In this scenario and according to this legislation, the charter school would only be required to have a 25% at-risk population, thus leaving out the other 25% of the area’s at-risk kids(seven-hundred-and-fifty students).
Many of the proponents of charters have described this legislation as focusing on at-risk kids. One has to wonder if they might have missed this section of the bill. But wait, there’s more….
Lines 181-191: In the event that the at-risk composition of an applicant’s or charter school’s enrollment differs from the enrollment of students in similar
grades as determined by the most recent census data for school-aged students for the school district in which the charter school is located by more than twenty-five percent (25%), despite its best efforts, the authorizer from which the applicant is seeking sponsorship shall consider the applicant’s or the charter school’s recruitment efforts and at-risk composition of the applicant pool in determining whether the applicant or charter school is operating in a nondiscriminatory manner.
Translation: Forget that whole “within 25%” thing, because the authorizer board can pretty much do whatever it wants.
Teacher and administrator certification…
Lines 992-996: “Fifty percent (50%) of teachers in a public charter school may be exempt from state teacher certification requirements. Administrators of public charter schools are exempt from state administrator certification requirements.”
Translation: If certification requirements — requirements passed by the legislature — are regarded as a hindrance to education, why not get rid of them altogether?
Salaries and benefits of charter teachers…
Lines 998-1004: “Employees in public charter schools shall have the same rights and privileges as other public school employees except as otherwise stated herein; however, such employees shall not be subject to the provisions of the Education Employment Procedures law, Section 37-9-103, shall not be subject to minimum salary requirements in Section 37-19-7, and shall not be deemed as members of the Public Employees’ Retirement System.“
Translation: If you’re looking for a quick buck and you don’t want to stick around for more than a year or two, you can come teach at a charter school. If you’re looking for a career as an educational professional and you’ve got the degrees and certifications to show it, you should probably go apply to one of the “inferior” traditional public schools in our state.
In the long run, which group of students will be better off — charter or traditional?
Tax Collector withholding payments to school districts…
Lines 1697-1704: “Effective with the 2012-2013 school year, the tax collector in the county in which the public charter school is located shall pay directly to the public charter school an amount for each student enrolled in the public charter school equal to the ad valorem taxes levied per pupil for the support of the school district in which the student resides, and the tax collector shall withhold an equal amount from the local school district in which the public charter school student resides.”
Translation: Who ultimately pays for charter schools? The children of the local school district.
Lines 1724-1728: “Any funds withheld from the school district for the purpose of making pro rata payments of ad valorem taxes levied in the school district to any public charter school located in the school district shall not be considered a shortfall within the meaning of Section 37-57-108.”
Translation: Yes, Mr. Superintendent, this funding will indeed come out of your budget, but we’re going to act like that’s not the case.
If I could only win the lottery….
Lines 144,145: “[a charter school] is a school that admits students on the basis of a lottery if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated;”
Translation: A lottery to get into a school? Really?
Lines 217-220: “A public charter school shall give enrollment preference to students enrolled in the public charter school the previous school year and to siblings of students already enrolled in the public charter school.”
Translation: Sorry, little Johnny. You can’t be enrolled in our “public” school this year because Billy’s younger brother is more important than you are.
Charter schools are open to everyone(wink,wink)…
Lines 199-202: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school, unless the number of students exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or building.”
Translation: Charter schools aren’t open to everyone.
Authorizer board appointments…
Lines 274-281: “The Mississippi Public Charter School Authorizer Board shall consist of seven (7) members. Three (3) members shall be appointed by the Governor, one (1) member appointed from each of the Mississippi Supreme Court Districts; three (3) members shall be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, one (1) member appointed from each of the Mississippi Supreme Court Districts; and one (1) member who shall be appointed by the State Superintendent of Education.”
Translation: So much for all of the hard work that went into the rightful creation of a state board of education almost thirty years ago. We’re gonna create a new, separate board. And the fact that we’re giving one appointment out of seven to the State Superintendent is nothing more than a formality. But wait, we’re not done yet…
Lines 332-338: “The Mississippi Department of Education shall assist the Mississippi Public Charter School Authorizer Board with implementing the authorizer’s decisions by providing technical assistance and information relating to the implementation of this act, and shall apply for any federal funds available for the implementation of charter school programs.”
Translation: Not only are we virtually giving MDE zero representation on the authorizer board, we’re gonna require that MDE do all the work in implementing these charter schools.
Mississippians have a long history of not being afraid to put up a fight. In this new fight to save our public schools, I sure hope we haven’t gone soft.