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Policy expert sheds light on charter schools

 

Dr. Laurie Smith, an advisor to Governor Phil Bryant, changes a powerpoint slide during a presentation to the Columbus Rotary about charter schools Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Laurie Smith, an advisor to Governor Phil Bryant, changes a powerpoint slide during a presentation to the Columbus Rotary about charter schools Tuesday afternoon. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff

 

Sarah Fowler

 

With the arrival of charter schools quickly approaching in Mississippi, local residents are learning how area public schools could be affected. 

 

Dr. Laurie Smith, Education Policy Advisor to the Governor, spoke about "Education Works 2013" to Rotary Club members Tuesday. 

 

Smith, a former teacher and administrator, has worked with Gov. Phil Bryant for the past seven months. Tuesday afternoon, she spoke with Rotarians about what the legislative body had accomplished in the last session. Smith explained which school districts are eligible for charter schools and which were not. 

 

"Private schools are prohibited from converting to a charter school," Smith said. "Existing public schools are able to convert. Virtual charter schools are not included in the bill. Charter schools may utilize only courses like we have now in the Department of Education but there will be no virtual charter schools." 

 

According to Smith, public schools that convert to charter schools will have to abide by charter school guidelines. 

 

For teachers, those qualifications include having at least a score of 21 on the ACT. 

 

"All teacher candidates to be licensed to teach must have a 21 ACT to achieve the nationally-recommended passing score on Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam," Smith said. 

 

She added that Mississippi will begin offering incentives to teachers who scored higher on their ACT in an effort to attract high quality teachers. 

 

Currently, there are over 5,000 public charter schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia serving more than two million students, Smith said. 

 

"Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement," she said. "Children have different ways of learning and public charter schools simply offer families a wider variety of options to serve such differences." 

 

Smith said those "variety of innovations" include extended learning time, multi-age programs and parent contracts. With parent contracts, she said parents will agree to volunteer a certain amount of time at the school. 

 

While charter schools offer a different style of curriculum than standard public schools, Smith said charter school will still fall under the same guidelines as public schools. 

 

"Charter schools administer the same state tests and are rated under the same system as regular public schools," she said. 

 

Charter schools will be regulated by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. The board may approve no more than 15 charter schools in the state per year. 

 

Smith noted that while charter schools may come into a failing district, districts that are either rated a "D" of "F" by the Mississippi Department of Education, they may also come into school districts rated a "C" or above only with the approval of the local school board. 

 

"Charter schools may open, or existing schools could convert to charter status, in all school districts. However, school boards in districts rated A, B, or C may veto the approval of an application for a charter school that would located in their district," she said. 

 

The Columbus Municipal School District is currently rated a "D." The Lowndes County School District is currently rated a "B." 

 

In addition to charter schools, Smith also spoke about the highly talked about "third-grade gate." If third grade students cannot read at grade level by 2015, they will be held behind. The third grade gate is part of the many "Education Works" reform. 

 

The other reforms include: $6 million dollars to Teach for America, $3 million dollars to continue early childhood education efforts conducted by Mississippi Building Blocks and $1.8 million to Life Tracks, a data system that provided statistics on student achievement.

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.

 

 

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