Hopson: Charter schools bill has little impact here

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mississippi students will now have a few more options when it comes to where they can attend school.

Senate Bill 2161 signed by Gov. Phil Bryant allows students in school districts with C, D or F ratings to attend charter schools outside their district.

Sen. Briggs Hopson said the bill is geared toward students who live in failing districts who want the opportunity to attend a charter school even though their district may not have one.

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“That was done to give people more options,” Hopson said.

He said he voted for the bill because of the children in those struggling school districts. He wanted to be able to provide those students with alternatives to meet their needs.

“I don’t think this measure has much impact on anything in our area,” Hopson said.

He complimented the options and programs offered in the Vicksburg Warren School District and said not all of the districts in Mississippi have the same opportunities.

He sees the charter school as an option for people in less fortunate areas.

“I think our school district is doing some dynamic things, and I really see a bright future for our school district with all the options and programs we have in place,” Hopson said.

One of the main concerns about the bill for VWSD superintendent Chad Shealy and school board president Bryan Pratt is school funding. Because charter schools are public schools, the education funding for each child will follow the child to whatever school district they choose to attend. With students changing districts, local tax dollars will leave the traditional public school and go to the charter school elsewhere.

However, both men agree with Hopson about the bill’s effect on the local school system.

“I don’t know if this charter school bill is really going to impact Vicksburg,” Pratt said.

While he doesn’t see Vicksburg being impacted, he also doesn’t see how the bill will help other children in Mississippi. He questions if charter schools are the answer to the problems in education, then he wants to know why traditional public schools aren’t allowed or given the same opportunities.

“We need to help all the children, not just the ones that go to the charter school,” Pratt said.

Shealy and Pratt both say there is no evidence charter schools perform any better than traditional public schools.

“It’s never worked in areas of poverty, or they’re not doing any better than the public schools,” Pratt said.

“I have not found anywhere that charter schools have been that they’ve outperformed the public schools that are there,” Shealy said.

Though Shealy may not be a fan of charter schools he is understanding of the position the legislature is in to provide for children across the state.

“You have to make a decision for the whole state when you’re making these tough choices, and I respect that,” Shealy said.

At this time there are only two charter schools in Mississippi. Both are in Jackson.

“As long as we’re the best choice for our children, for being flexible to provide what our community needs, charter schools will never be a problem for any district,” Shealy said.