Mississippi Allows Underserved Students to Cross Districts for Charter Schools

Published May 11, 2016

Mississippi students who attend school in districts rated C, D, or F may now cross district lines to attend charter schools.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) signed into law Senate Bill 2161 to “revise the residency requirement for applicants to attend a charter schools and to require charter schools to give enrollment preference to underserved children.”

Expanded Opportunities

State Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford), SB 2161’s primary author, says the new law expands charter school access for the state’s children.

“In 2013, Mississippi passed its first public charter school law,” Tollison said. “It’s been in place the last two and a half years. … [We] came back with these changes to expand opportunities for children that were in schools that are not meeting their educational needs.

“Effectively, the law is now in Mississippi that we have school grades A–F that are easily recognizable,” Tollison said. “A child in a C, D, or F school district could cross the district lines to attend a charter school. The money would follow the student. I think this will generate more interest in charter operators locating in Mississippi, [making it] a more favorable environment to operate in.”

Tollison’s bill includes a provision allowing new charter schools to open in subpar districts without approval from the local school board. 

“Unfortunately, we do have schools that are not meeting the expectation of providing a good education the child deserves,” Tollison said. “We’re creating choices for parents if they feel the public school is not meeting the needs of their child. Two-hundred and fifty students in Jackson have exercised that right. They say it’s an environment that is conducive to learning [and] the parents are very engaged. [The students] we talked to enjoy the school; it’s very academically focused.

“It just gives choices to parents in schools that aren’t performing well,” Tollison said. “Hopefully, this will create some competition in the public school district to improve schools that aren’t performing well.”

‘Empower Children and Families’

Rachel Canter, the executive director of Mississippi First, says charter schools offer an excellent alternative, “especially [for] those for whom traditional public schooling has not worked.”

“Charter schools are important to the public education landscape in Mississippi because they empower children and families in low-performing school districts with much-needed public school options,” Canter said.

Tollison says nine operators have issued letters of intent to open 14 new charter schools in the state.

“I think the word is getting out that we have a good environment for school choice,” said Tollison.

Matt Hurley ([email protected]writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.