Brown v. Board of Education prompted parents in Mississippi to create nonpublic and charter schools in efforts to keep schools segregated. Legislation and School Choice in Mississippi At the present time, Mississippi doesnt truly offer school choice. There is no private school choice program. Parents are not given money from the state to send their children to private or parochial schools. The Education Commission of the States reports that Mississippi has enacted a mandatory inter-district school open enrollment policy. Students can move between school districts- but that is not guaranteed for those who want to change schools.
Both the sending and receiving school boards must approve it. Mississippis Constitution prohibits the appropriation of any state education funds for the support of sectarian schools or private schools (Miss. Const. Art. 8, Sec. 208). Though at the same time, state accreditation is mandatory for nonpublic schools receiving state funds. According to State Regulation of Private Schools, (June 2000), Mississippi law provides free textbooks on loan to pupils in all elementary and secondary schools in the state (Miss. Code Ann. § 37-43-1 et seq).
The loan of textbooks to qualified private schools does not violate Mississippis constitutional prohibition against public support of sectarian schools or the control of educational funds by religious sects. Private, parochial or denominational schools accepting free school textbooks on behalf of their students must file annual reports as required by the State Board of Education (Miss. Code Ann. § 37-43-51). Throughout the years, numerous bills to give vouchers or tax credits/ tax deductions have died in House Committees.
It was allowed to die in 2009. During the 12 years that the law was on the books, only one traditional public school converted to a public charter school. Senate Bill 2721 is the latest bill in regards charter schools. This current bill is one authorizing new start-up charter schools to be established in Mississippi recently passed the State Senate and is now being taken up in the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 2721, which passed the senate by a vote of 50-2 in February, authorizes five new start-up charter schools to be established in the state.
With this bill, the school can be brand new, not a failing school converting to a charter. Local school boards would have the first look at proposals, but authorization power would still rest solely with the state board of education. According to Bill 2721, the definition of a start-up charter school is a public school operating under the terms of a charter granted by the State Board of Education with the approval of the local school board or school boards on the application of an eligible entity and may draw its students from across public school district boundaries (Harrison, 2010) .
Previous attempts to expand charter schools in Mississippi were shot down by fears of racial segregation. Some fear that it is a backdoor attempt to re-segregate many of Mississippis public schools, though supporters point out that a majority of charter school students in many parts of the country are minorities. Theres been some resistance from the Mississippi Association of Educators and other groups that say youre taking money from public education, Watson continued (Harrison, 2010). Thats an absolute falsity”this is public education (Harrison, 2010).
Opposition still remains from some caucus members and from teacher unions (Heartland. org). Those who oppose the potential implementation of charter schools believe the schools will be taking away students, resources and funding from a public school system that is already heavily financially burdened. Impacts on Funding and Analysis Mississippi charter schools are eligible for the same funding as regular schools. They may receive federal, state, local or private funding. They are not taxing authorities and may not levy taxes or request tax increases in order to generate funding.
Charter schools are funded with taxes, but operate with more flexibility and fewer restrictions than the traditional public schools. Often times, charter schools have a special emphasis, such as on the art or the sciences. According to the Mississippi Code of 1972, the State Board of Education may give charter schools special preference when allocating grant funds other than state funds for alternative school programs, classroom technology, improvement programs, mentoring programs or other grant programs designed to improve local school performance.
Allowing charter schools to be created will minimally decrease the funding that public schools receive. Minimal because at most only five charter schools will come into existence and they will be spread throughout the state, not centralized in one location. The amount of funding will still be based on the number of students enrolled in the schools. Charter schools traditionally keep their numbers small. Jackson public schools is the third largest district in the state of Mississippi, none of these legislations are negatively impacting the funding of the district.
Even the state law allowing book loans to private schools has not taken away from the students of JPS. It has been speculated that having a charter school law would make Mississippi eligible for more grants through the Race to the Top program, which is part of the stimulus package passed last year by Congress and signed into law by Obama. If this speculations is true, then all districts in the state are losing funds due to lack of charter schools. But the state Department of Education has said the lack of a charter school law would not prevent Mississippi from being eligible for the grants through the program (heartland. org).