Legislators in our neighboring state of Alabama also considered charter school bills in their 2012 session. They had vigorous public debate about how to ensure that charter schools help the children in their state whose schools are failing to educate them. The original charter school bills introduced in both chambers were changed significantly in response to concerns expressed by educators, parents, and state leaders. The legislative session ended with no charter school bill having passed both chambers.
Several points deliberated in Alabama track closely with our concerns about Mississippi’s legislation. During the session, amendments were passed to:
• Target charters to the lowest performing 5 percent of public schools
• Allow charters only in school districts with at least one persistently low performing school, and require them to locate in the attendance zones of the low performing schools. “Persistently low performing” is defined as schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of achievement scores in math and reading for three consecutive years.
• Give the State Board of Education a significant role in ensuring that charter schools adhere to the standards and accountability measures expected of traditional public schools
• Limit to 20 the number of charter schools that can be authorized in the state
• Require that charters be conversions of existing low performing schools, rather than entirely new schools
• Set strict guidelines for record-keeping and reporting on students who drop out or transfer during the school year
• Restrict charter schools to Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham