State lawmakers have long wanted state intervention that creates noticeable and lasting academic improvements. The clearest expression of that is the New Start school law. Until July 1, it required the state to take over any school that gets graded an F for two years in a row. In February, the Board of Education used its authority to grant a third year to all 22 schools subject to takeover, after all submitted improvement plans.
The state couldn’t have dodged stepping in at any of those schools that failed tests at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. But Mississippi Department of Education officials, unenthusiastic about the law, persuaded lawmakers to make changes this year.
Takeovers are now optional, and the requirement that all employees, teachers and administrators be fired was removed. It would have also strengthened requirements that a local district cooperate with the state in running a new start school and pay for its operation, plus allow the state to override local decisions without actually taking over the school.
The bill also says the Board of Education may contract with “one or more persons of private entities with experience in improving school performance to assist in implementing and administering any part of the New Start school program.”
But that’s not the end. A Department of Education task force is studying states that have taken a different path by creating what Tennessee, for example, calls an achievement school district. Typically such districts take over individual low performing schools, as the New Start law envisions, and works to improve them. But in Tennessee and Louisiana, many of the schools that have been taken over have been contracted out to charter school operators.