Thursday, March 27, 2014
Letter to the Editor
Whether you are a fan of them or not, whether you are an advocate for them or not, charter schools are here. Our great state has authorized the operation of charter schools in school districts that are graded “D” or “F.” Currently, both of our local school districts (Marshall County School District, Holly Springs School District) have attained the grade of “C,” which means if charter schools are going to operate in our community, they must receive permission from the local school board. I am asking you to join us in an effort to bring a charter school to our community. Charter schools are not private schools, rather they are considered public schools just like our local public school districts.
Charter schools exist for the sole purpose of giving low-income and middle-income wage earners a choice in education such as those who have higher earnings who choose to send their children to private schools. Make no mistake about it, charter school legislation is about giving parents (those who cannot afford private school) a choice as to where their children attend school. There is nothing inherently good or bad in having a choice as to where our children may attend school. We must understand that choice does not always mean better. In some cases, charter school students perform at the same level as students in the regular public school system. The first question we must ask is, “Would I like to have a choice as to where my child attends school?” If the answer is yes, please join us in our efforts to bring choice to Marshall County. Just recently in Memphis, Tenn., we saw parents brave freezing temperatures to wait outside two days before the school district gave out applications for “optional schools.” This shows us that parents will make tremendous sacrifices in hopes of receiving a choice. The second question we must ask is, “If given a choice, would I send my child or children to a different school outside of the local public school system?” If this answer is no, then a charter school may not be successful here in Marshall County. We believe that most parents want choice and some parents will exercise that choice by choosing a different school.
We may have the impulse to say just wait until such a time as our local school districts perform below “C” before bringing in a charter school. We hope that never happens. We want to see our local school districts succeed and help our children achieve at higher levels than the current status quo. If we wait for our local school districts to fail, then quite frankly, we may never see charter schools in our community.
As the authorizing of charter school operations has happened in the states around us, history tells us the same will happen in our great state as well. In the case of Tennessee, the state initially passed the charter school law in 2002. This looks a lot like our current law—only allowing charter operation in failing districts. Up until 2011 several changes were made to the charter law; however, last year is when the state legislation took away all opposition and allowed any student in any district to attend a charter school. The state had previously removed stipulations that limited the number of charters that could start operations in any given year. As it now stands, however many charters wish to begin operations and are approved may begin operating in any district. It took nine years but now it is wide open. We believe the same thing will happen within the state of Mississippi.
Some may take the position that we should just wait until this happens, but that would be a huge mistake in our judgment.
Dr. Willie Herenton, former mayor of Memphis and former superintendent for Memphis City School District, wrote a letter of intent to begin a charter school in Marshall County. This proves beyond a shadow of doubt that others are looking to pounce at the opportunity to begin charter schools in our community. The best way to limit outsiders from coming into our community and tearing apart our local school districts is to work with local people who have vested interests in our children and who will work to sustain our current public school system. The risk of waiting could cripple our local school districts. There are charter school organizations that have the funding to allow them to come into our community and build large schools which will teach hundreds of students. We must work to prevent this from happening.
The major complaint we have heard concerning charter schools has nothing to do with the concept of charter schools, rather it has to do with how they are funded. Currently as the law stands, the funds that a local school district receives to educate a student will follow the student for the exception of the local dollars (which is approximately 20 percent of the total). This means that parents do not have to pay for their children to attend the charter school. This concerns many who are working in our local school districts because our schools are already underfunded. This concern needs to be addressed. Teachers and others are concerned about job loss. Charter schools will not cause job loss, rather job creation and job transfers. Note that for every teaching position that would be lost by the loss of students to attend the charter school would create a new teaching position at the charter school. This is known as job transfer. The same teacher who loses a job may even apply for a job at the charter.
The charter school will create other positions such as maintenance of buildings and grounds, cafeteria staff, and additional strategic positions to strengthen the learning skills of the student. The creation of the charter school would grow our local economy because it would create more jobs above the job transfers from the local district. This is good for our community. Yes, dollars will be lost to our local school district, but those same dollars would remain in our county.
Please do not be afraid to act now and help us bring transformational change to our county. This is a visionary concept and one that if we fail to employ may bring even more harm to our local school districts that we now enjoy.
Bennie E. Braswell Jr.
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