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Charter school application process under microscope after no new schools approved this year

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 1:40 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The state authorized Mississippi’s first charter schools in 2015 to offer another option to families who have children in failing districts.

Advocates say red tape is standing in the way of many more children getting that opportunity.

There are waiting lists to get into Mississippi seven charter schools.

Two others are on tap to open next year.

Applications have been filed in the last several years to open more, but the board hasn’t given them the green light.

“It’s an extensive process, it’s a rigorous process as well, it should be so that only high-quality applicants do get approved at the end of the day,” explained Dr. Lisa Karmacharya, Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board Executive Director.

The board says they don’t want to just rubber-stamp an application. Dr. Karmacharya says she thinks there’s confusion about what they do.

“So, the role of the authorizer is simply to approve or deny high-quality applicants when they come through our process,” she said. “And we’re not an incubator. We are not a technical assistance provider. We are an oversight agency that will hold schools accountable to the traditional and nontraditional accountability methods that charter schools are accountable for,” Karmacharya added.

Even charter school advocates like Empower Mississippi say, “The real problem I see today isn’t from the charter law,” Grant Callen said, Empower Mississippi Founder and CEO. “It’s we’ve got to get more applying for more support, and then the board’s got to approve.”

Empower Mississippi believes there are more ways the board can help.

“I mean, their job is to oversee a healthy charter sector,” said Callen. “And part of that means encouraging people to step into that sector in the first place. And my concern is that when you tell 80% of the applicants no, over the last eight years, it has a chilling effect on other people that might want to start a school. At the end of the day, our charter authorizer Board has to give more schools a chance.”

It’s a mixed bag when you look at the current number of charters compared to our surrounding states.

According to National School Choice Week data, Arkansas has about 86 charter schools, Louisiana more than 140, Tennessee 112, and five in Alabama.

The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board is partnering with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to review some processes.

The executive director says they just finished a review of the performance framework, which is the accountability model for charter schools.

The board is about to begin revising the application cycle that’s been around since 2015.

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