Thirty-five Mississippi schools have performed so poorly for three years in a row that parents can now convert them into charter schools under the state’s 2010 Parent Trigger law.
This is the first year any Mississippi schools are eligible. About 50 schools improved their performance and thus avoided the eligible list.
“Mississippi is handing a lot of power over to parents with this law,” said Laura Jones, school improvement director for the Mississippi Department of Education.
Charter schools are available to families only through Mississippi’s Parent Trigger law, and then only 12 existing schools may be converted into the independently run public schools. Otherwise, the state does not allow them. So far, no school’s parents have chosen to pull the trigger.
Parents have very little accurate information about charters, and none on successfully evaluating one, said Anne Foster, executive director of Parents for Public Schools.
Gov. Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves are expected to press for charter school legislation in 2013.
“Charters can provide children trapped in failing schools with a good public school option, provided that the legislation governing charters is written tightly enough,” said Nancy Loome, executive director of the Mississippi Parents’ Campaign.
Chronically failing Mississippi schools have also tried federal reforms targeted to states’ worst 5 percent of schools, such as School Improvement Grants which send such schools more money and require them to switch up staff.
“The 62,000 parents involved with The Parents’ Campaign overwhelmingly favor improvement in traditional schools over a charter option,” Loome said. “We get enormous pushback from parents because of our position that favors authorizing charter schools.”
No Parent Consensus
In 2010, Mississippi legislators passed a law stating any school labeled as failing, low-performing, or at risk of failing for three consecutive years is eligible for a majority of parents to petition the state’s department of education to allow the school to be converted into a charter.
Test results starting in 2009-2010 determined schools’ labels in 2010-2011 and forward.
“Our communities are trying to figure out how to be more actively engaged in improving their schools, but none of them show an interest in charters,” Jones said. “They want to know what we can do to make our present system better.”
No school boards or parents wishing to participate in charter conversion have contacted PPS, Foster said. Four schools in the Clarksdale Municipal School District are eligible for charter conversion, but Superintendent Dennis Dupree said he’s not aware of any parents having expressed interest in exercising that option.
Hinds County Agricultural High School, also eligible for conversion, and nearby Clarksdale County are open-enrollment, meaning parents send children to their school of choice within the district until 8th grade. AHS is also open-enrollment.
Dupree said Clarksdale’s demographics, including a 98 percent poverty rate, have led district leaders to focus on early education, such as pre-kindergarten pilot programs.
“You have to remember that this is something that has to be parent-driven and right now there’s just no consensus among the parents or the community to move in that direction,” said State Conservator Mac Curlee, a consultant to trigger-eligible Okolona High School.
Charter advocates pushed for a broader law in 2012 but couldn’t win approval in the House, Jones said, largely because the education establishment opposed the bill.
The Parents’ Campaign supports tight charter legislation that allows charters only in chronically low-performing school zones, Loomes said. Automatically including all children in a failing district-wide lottery, with parents able to opt out, is key, she said.
“We believe that parents should be at the table when decisions are made that impact their children,” Foster said.
A list of Mississippi schools eligible for the Parent Trigger is available in this article’s online edition: http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2012/11/15/thirty-five-mississippi-schools-eligible-parent-trigger.
Parents looking to “pull the trigger” on their child’s failing school can contact Parent Revolution, a national group that offers training, information, and legal advice. Call 213.621.3052 or email [email protected].
Mississippi Schools Eligible for the Parent Trigger
Amanda Elzy High
Booker T. Washington Elementary
Carver Middle School
Coahoma County Jr/Sr High School
Crystal Springs Middle School
D.M. Smith Middle School
Friars Point Elementary
Greenville Weston High
Higgins Middle School
Hinds Agricultural High
Leflore County High
Leland School Park
Liddell Middle School
Magnolia Junior High
McCoy Elementary School
Moss Point High
Mt. Olive Academy
East Oktibbeha County High
West Oktibbeha County High
Pilate Middle School
Port Gibson High
Shivers Middle School
Whitten Middle School
Yazoo City High
Image by Jalil Arfaoui.