CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Legislators shouldn't rush into creating a system of charter schools in Mississippi. The idea, while used in some states to create special schools with sharply focused missions, needs to be studied for its possible applications to Mississippi's unique situations.

The charter school idea which enjoys bipartisan support on the national level and has funding support from the Clinton administration seeks to draw parents more fully into educating their children. The applied concept in school settings emphasizes some academic disciplines more than others, specific kinds of teaching methods, and various disciplinary strategies. It allows, in some instances, groups of interested parents and other activists to apply for and receive charter school status with public funds for operations.

Gov. Kirk Fordice is among the concept's supporters in Mississippi, and some legislators also back it. Other legislators, however, say they don't know much about the idea. It's probably safe to say that other than the name, most Mississippians interested in education aren't fully informed about it, either.

The idea has merit, and it deserves thorough study and review for its practicality and applicability in our state. However, adequate fact-finding about what's most likely to succeed should precede any funding other than for study.

The governor proposes $50,000 for study in 10 districts. The Clinton administration has $51 million available nationwide, and some of it could come to Mississippi. However, any investment beyond studying the possibilities until at least the next legislative session would be throwing money at unanswered questions.

Several assumptions should guide any study undertaken by the Legislature:

First, charter schools need to remain thoroughly grounded in the foundation of public education. Anything hinting at public investment in private schools raises suspicions and rekindles memories of eras best buried and forgotten. Public education can and should provide broad latitude for charter schools under its umbrella and make any demand for private affiliation unnecessary.

Second, charter schools need to be grounded in ideas with some context in reality. They should not become an excuse for fly-by-night ideas to tap public money but for good ideas to receive public investment.

Third, charter schools need always to stress inclusiveness. Exclusion doesn't educate; it merely reinforces prejudice.

Charter schools may be the right model to promote all the things their supporters claim parental and community involvement, higher expectations, better student performance, more learning, and better discipline.

The Legislature can best make the important decisions about charter school after hearing the facts and looking at proposals. Then, informed decisions can be made about investing public funds in what could be exciting new education ventures.

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