February 22, 2012; Source: Hattiesburg American (AP)

Mississippi is on the road to a sharp expansion of its nonprofit charter schools. The state Senate just passed a bill that would allow K-12 pupils from anywhere in Mississippi to attend a charter school. Republican state senators supported the bill and rejected amendments proposed by Democrats to narrow the bill’s scope. The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives, which, like the Senate, is dominated by Republicans, and then if it passes, it will move to the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is also on record in favor of charters.

As in many states, the funding would follow the students, even those who leave their districts to attend out-of-district charters (though not all funds would follow out-of-county moves). In a bit of a union-busting move, charter school teachers do not have to be paid according to the state salary schedule and, even more significant in light of union battles in other states, charter schools would be prohibited from participating in Mississippi’s Public Employees Retirement System.

The legislation would also allow charter schools to be established in any school district once approved by a new state commission, but school boards in 32 “highly-rated districts” would be given veto power. Outside of those top districts, the legislation basically substitutes the seven-member commission for local school boards when it comes to oversight and governance of the new charters.

According to the Associated Press, “[Charter] schools would have to be nonprofit, but could contract with for-profit firms for services.” Hopefully, advocates of charter schools, including those nonprofits that might imagine being designated as operators of new charter schools, are thinking not about management contracts, union busting, or bypassing local school district control, but about what will give all Mississippi public school students the best education possible.—Rick Cohen