By Adam Lynch

The Jackson Free Press–February 16, 2011

Charters-school advocates are looking to change the state’s current law to allow charter schools to use lottery enrollment. The Mississippi Legislature passed SB 2293 last year, creating a process for transforming some failing public schools into “New Start Schools” and “Conversion Charter Schools.” Under that law, charter schools are independent of local school districts in some rules and regulations, with parent-elected independent boards, instead of boards appointed by a city council or mayor. The new schools must comply with the rules and standards of the State Board of Education, however, and converted charter schools must also accept the same students enrolled in the school prior to its conversion.

Senate Bill 2774, which the Senate passed last Thursday, alters that law by exempting conversion charter schools from “regulation, … of the State Board of Education,” except where applicable under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and Department of Health regulations, among a few others.

The new bill, if passed, also installs a lottery program to determine new applicants to the charter school, rather than forcing the school to accept all students zoned for the school. The lottery applies to new student applicants one year after the school’s application for conversion, and only kicks in if the number of applicants exceeds the school’s capacity, as set by the school’s charter.

Former Jackson Public Schools Superintendent and current Mississippi NAACP Education Chairman Earl Watkins said legislators should wait to see whether the 2010 law is successful before trying to alter it.

“Any time the proponents of charter schools seek to debunk what we have in place that requires you serve the same population … you have to ask yourself what exactly are they looking for? … [Y]ou deduce that they have issues with things like who goes to the school, and who is the authority in the school,” Watkins said.

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