The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board voted Monday to approve a new controversial performance framework for charter schools.
The new regulations were largely opposed by charter school operators and advocates such as Mississippi First and Empower Mississippi.
The new regulations (passed with one vote against) will evaluate the accountability of a charter operator and whether the board will authorize their contract for a new four- or five-year period. The new standards measure accountability in three areas: Academic, financial and organizational.
During hearing on October 27, charter school advocates and school operators said the new regulations could not only constrain growth of the state’s charter school sector, but also make it more difficult for existing schools to get their contracts renewed.
In December 2020, the board gave Michigan-based Basis Policy Research a $30,000 contract to help rewrite the performance framework. The new regulations would be the first time they were reworked since the original framework was passed by the board in 2013.
The board also approved a change with two of the RePublic-run schools in Jackson, Smilow Collegiate and Smilow Prep. RePublic wants to shift the grades served at Smilow Collegiate to grades kindergarten through fourth for fiscal 2023 since Collegiate doesn’t have the space to serve the fifth grade there and Prep already has that grade level.
RePublic said in its request that it is considering consolidating the two schools, but lacks clarity on its ability to do so without board guidance.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers briefed the board on their recommendations for altering the way the board conducts its request for proposal process for potential charter school operators.
NACSA made four recommendations, including establishing a preference for applications helping underserved students, raising the standard of review early in the process to ensure the capacity of the board to review applications isn’t wasted with proposals that won’t meet standards, moving the evaluation of a potential school’s board to earlier in the process since a lack of proper board governance is often a hallmark of failed charter proposals and restricting capacity interviews to high quality and borderline applicants,
Jason Zwara is the policy manager at NACSA. He told the board that the state doesn’t have a charter school association like in a lot of other states that provides support to applicants, but that the board provides open-ended technical assistance to applicants throughout the process. He said there should be more clarification on the amount of technical assistance that the authorizer board provides to applicants.
In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill that authorized charter schools in Mississippi. There are only seven charter schools in Mississippi, most in the Jackson area, and two more will open next year.
Charters can be approved exclusively by the authorizer board in only failing school districts according to the Mississippi Department of Education’s annual accountability grades. Any other charter that wants to open elsewhere requires the approval of the local school board in addition to that of the authorizer board.