New charter school law may impact Pine Belt schools

New charter school law may impact Pine Belt schools
Source: WDAM Archives

PINE BELT (WDAM) - A new Mississippi law that allows students in C, D and F-rated districts attend charter schools outside of their district could impact Pine Belt schools.

"I am very concerned about the school choice for Hattiesburg schools because anybody that can get a set of car keys and four wheels that'll roll down the road may very well wish to pull their children out," said Greg Ladner, interim superintendent of hattiesburg Public Schools. "I'm already telling you, our enrollment is going down. (It) is not stable right now, you all. It is declining from year to year while our ADA percentages likewise go down and we lose more money."

Kelly Riley, executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, said he is also concerned about districts losing money, saying it will follow students to charter schools.

"The local tax money is one of the big things. Normally if a student leaves one district goes to another, and then normally, that money follows," he said. "But not the local tax money."

Right now, 10 Pine Belt school districts are graded C.

Wayne County Superintendent Bobby Jones said he does not think it is fair to include C schools with D and F schools, saying a C rating means a school is proficient. He said it is possible his district could lose students if a charter school opened in a neighboring district.

Right now, Mississippi only has a few charter schools, and Laurel Schools Superintendent Chuck Benigno said he is happy the state has a rigorous application to start a charter school. He said he is glad charter schools are held to a high standard and cannot be started anywhere.

However, Babette Duty, Covington County School District curriculum director, said she suspects starting charter schools will be more appealing now that more students can attend.

Benigno said he would be disappointed if students wanted to leave his district for a charter school, but said he understands some would want to try the new option.

"I feel like public education and public schools are doing a great job," he said.