Selected readings on US charter schools
Despite one’s stance on charter schools, Mississippi now has a law that allows them in select districts. However, funding and administrative deficiencies exist in the law and need immediate attention.
The Mississippi Charter School Authorizing Board has faced an uphill climb this year because of overly burdensome requirements for an executive director and a lack of adequate funding from the Legislature.
The former issue extends from the way the charter schools law was written. It requires that the executive director also serve as the board attorney, which is problematic for two reasons.
First, it may lead to a conflict of interest if the executive director is ever a material party to a legal complaint. It also removes an extra layer of independent advisory authority that exists with most boards; in those cases, the attorney can provide a strictly legal opinion on a request from its director or future employees to the board.
Second, an attorney as a full-time executive director is likely to be costlier than a non-attorney executive director. While this may not always be so, it is likely in this case because they will be giving legal advice in addition to executing board policies.
Two bills — one introduced in the House, the other in the Senate — that would have changed this requirement were allowed to die in committee. That was a mistake that we hope lawmakers will rectify when they address funding for the board later in this session. It could require suspension of the rules or a special session called within a regular session, but it is possible to do so.
The second issue — that of inadequate funding — still has hope of being adequately addressed. The authorizing board has requested $250,000 to fund the executive director’s salary, pay for a consultant firm to help deal with the applications and cover other administrative expenses.
When lawmakers passed the charter schools bill, they were more focused on getting the votes to pass the law than they were in evaluating the funding needed for the authorizing board. While we are generally leery of consultants to do the work of a board, this case is different. This is a new venture from the state, and relying on expertise from other people with a successful track record seems a wise move. Furthermore, the authorizing board has no staff on which to rely in vetting the applications. The consultant, it seems, is nearly a necessity.
Simply passing a charters school bill is not enough. Legislators must give them the tools for success which, in this case, are few and relatively inexpensive. If these charter schools fail, they fail our children and existing public schools. We should all be pushing and working for their success. Lawmakers have the opportunity to do their part — and their time is now.