By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
Organizers of a forum that will highlight statewide school reform initiatives expected to be addressed in the 2013 session of the Mississippi Legislature are encouraging residents of all East Central Mississippi counties to attend.
The forum will take place in Meridian Monday at 6 p.m. in the EMEPA auditorium on Highway 39 North.
Topics will include public charter schools, school choice, private school vouchers and tax credits, public school funding, teacher quality, early childhood education and more, according to a press release.
The purpose of the forum is to increase residents’ understanding and awareness of how schools are funded, what charter schools would look like if approved by legislators and how the charter schools would affect existing public schools, said Becky Glover, a parent coach representing the East Central Mississippi area for Parents for Public Schools, which is a co-sponsor of the forum.
Glover encouraged all residents to attend, whether they have children in school or not.
"Decisions made will impact everybody," Glover said. "It is their tax money. We want them to understand that they are public school owners."
Some Republicans have vowed to renew the fight for charter schools in the upcoming session following a contentious battle over the issue last year when a proposal to allow the creation of new charter schools failed by one vote in the House education committee.
The bill passed in the Senate.
In October Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a charter school proponent, told The Meridian Star editorial board the issue will be revisited in the new session.
"I believe we will pass it again in the Senate and I hope we'll be able to get it in the House also," Reeves said.
Vouchers were not part of the original Senate bill.
"What we did allow is, if a charter school opens, then the state money for that child — the MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) money — follows the child and we allowed for students in adjoining school districts to move to that charter school if there was an opening," Reeves said.
Glover said what that means is if a charter school opens in Kemper County, for example, students from surrounding counties such as Lauderdale County can transfer to that school and the funding for that student would follow.
Glover said those who attend the forum will learn:
• How to become an informed voter to effectively speak and listen for their “voice”, i.e. their House or Senate representatives, in Jackson.
• How funding for public schools comes into or may leave a school district and community.
• What they need to know and want to know about charter schools or other education reform issues that may be proposed, voted on, and paid for with public tax money.
• How proposed reforms could impact traditional public schools and if they will be strengthened and improved, or weakened and forced to face even greater barriers.
The guest speaker at the forum will be Nancy Loome, founder and executive director of The Parents’ Campaign.
According to The Parents' Campaign website, the organization supports charter school legislation that will focus resources on helping students who are trapped in unsuccessful schools.The organization proposes taxpayers should:
• Permit charters only in school zones where public schools have been underperforming for the two (or more) most recent years.
• Grant charters only to entities that have a track record of success in turning around low-performing schools.
• Prohibit virtual charters.
• Require charter schools and their management organizations to be nonprofit.
• Ensure that charter schools are subject to the same assessments and accountability as all other publicly-funded schools.
• Provide an "opt-out" system of enrollment and lottery, giving all children living in the school zone an equal opportunity to enroll.
• Establish a single, non-politicized authorizer of charter schools that includes appointees who possess a high level of expertise in and commitment to public education.
Opponents of charter schools have expressed concern that charter schools are two narrowly focused and won't improve education for all students.