Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement.
The concept was created to help improve our nation’s public education system and offer parents another option to meet their children’s needs. There are three basic tenants of charter schools:
- Choice: Students choose to attend
- Free: Charter schools do not charge tuition
- Open: Charter schools do not have special entrance requirements
Without many of the bureaucratic requirements placed on traditional public schools, charter schools are held to a very high standard for advancing student achievement.
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As a result:
- Students in charter schools generally perform better and have higher graduation rates than their peers in traditional public schools. [i]
- Charter schools help close the achievement gap and raise the bar for academic achievement, particularly with low-income or minority students. [ii]
- Charter school students are accepted into college after completing high school at a higher rate than traditional public schools. [iii]
Charter schools have some unique traits that distinguish them from traditional public schools and are designed to increase student success:
- Flexibility: Charter schools are free to make timely decisions about developing curriculum, structuring the school day, and hiring teachers that meet the needs of their particular student body.
- Accountability: Charter schools operate within a multi-tiered accountability system – to parents, to authorizers via a performance-based contract, and to the state – that leads to quality schools and achievement.
- Choice: Parents select the charter school their child attends. Teachers choose to work in public charter schools, most often for the professional satisfaction and the opportunity to shape school policy.
- Partnerships with Parents and Communities: Parents and community members are welcomed in charter schools and involved in the day-to-day operation of their child’s school.
- Innovation: Charter Schools’ flexibility to adapt to the educational needs of children often leads to innovation in school operations and classroom instruction. For example, Reimagine Prep is the first school in the state to require all students to study coding, the process used in computer programming.
Charter schools started in the early 1990s, with the first charter school in the country opening in Minnesota in 1992. To date, 43 states now have laws permitting charter schools. Mississippi passed legislation authorizing charter schools in 2013 and the first two schools opened in Jackson in 2015, with two more set to open in 2016.
These four schools are part of the growing charter school movement that now serves more than 2.5 million students in approximately 6,500 schools across the nation.
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To ensure the success of charter schools, the Mississippi Charter Schools Act utilized the best practices shown to be successful in other states. To promote accountability and success, a rigorous process was instituted for opening charter schools in Mississippi.
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE CURRENT LAW
The current model for authorizing charter schools in Mississippi is very strong, but there are limitations that prevent charter schools from flourishing in most parts of the state:
- Students can only enroll in a charter school that is within their school district lines. Students should be allowed to find and attend a charter school that will meet their needs, even if the school is located outside their assigned district. This will also allow charter schools to open in high-need areas where the small size of many of the school districts makes the creation of a charter school virtually impossible.
- Charter schools are essentially limited to D and F rated school districts since those working to create a charter school in A, B, or C rated districts would need to receive approval from the local school board before they could open. As of 2015, Mississippi has no F rated districts (according to the state’s accountability rankings), so access to charter schools is limited to students in D rated school districts. Charter schools should be available to students wherever there is a need and sufficient demand from the local community.