Charter school bill in eleventh hour

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It's no secret that educating children is a big priority, and a tough challenge in communities all over the state. How to best do it is causing some debate in Jackson.

State Senator Michael Watson (R- Pascagoula) is pushing for state-funded charter schools.  He said they would give students a chance to excel when their educational needs don't fit the traditional mold.

"The one size fits all does not work," he said.  "And charter schools bring such an 'outside the box' playbook into the classroom. And it's something we could definitely use, and something Mississippi could definitely use.  If you want to try different things, why not let charter schools be one of them."

Watson has already passed a bill through the State Senate that would provide for charter schools. It would create and strictly manage charter schools across the state.  Admission into the schools would be determined by a lottery system.

That bill is awaiting discussion in a House subcommittee. Watson said the subcommittee chairman is holding it on purpose. If it doesn't pass through the subcommittee Tuesday, the bill won't even have a chance to become law.

"I just don't understand for the life of me why that subcommittee chairman won't let it out," he said.  "They're able to maximize their educational experience, starting as early as middle school up through high school.  And they're ready for college, or even to go straight into the job field."

In Pascagoula, Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich isn't so sure about the charter school system. He said they may work well in certain school districts, but he doesn't think they are a cure-all for our education system's ills.

"The concept of charter school, in the concept form is great," Rodolfich said.  "But in the application form, you still have to have good instructional leaders.  Just by branding a school a charter school doesn't change the level of accountability with the people who are working in the school."

Rodolfich said the secret to improving education doesn't lie in legislation, but rather within the walls of the school.  He said it all depends on teachers, parents and administrators- none of which are guaranteed to be better in a charter school.  But Watson said the success of the schools in his bill are backed up by research.

"When you have a strong piece of legislation in the state, and you have a tough rigorous standard on the front end of who you let come in and run these charter schools, then those are the ones that are doing a good job," he said.

Rodolfich said it's important for legislators to discuss their ideas with educators.

"Any time you want to implement a concept such as a charter school, you should first look into the school district that you're thinking about moving into, and say 'What does your strategic plan look like for the next five years?' By not being knowledgeable about what the existing plan is, and then saying, 'Okay, here's your new plan,' it's not really taking in the educator's perspective on how educate children," Rodolfich said.

The bill calls for a mandatory shutting down of any charter schools that weren't successful.

If Watson's bill passes through the House, it will go before the Governor to sign into law.