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Miss. Charter School Oversight Board Hires New Director From Louisiana

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Mississippi's new statewide board charged with overseeing its charter schools has hired an executive director from New Orleans, according to the Associated Press.

Marian Schutte starts her new job on the seven-member board in early November with the next batch of charter applications scheduled to be decided on in December. Schutte was the policy and planning director for the office that oversees dozens of charter schools for Louisiana's department of education. 

Mississippi's Charter School Authorizer Board was created this year and represents a small but growing trend in the charter sector to add a layer of rigor to the groups that approve, oversee, and close charter schools. I recently wrote a story about these boards, which are being trumpeted by a national charter-authorizing association as a best practice:

Such boards go by different names but are generally authorizing bodies separate from other state and local agencies whose sole purpose is to authorize charter schools statewide. The press for quality—a recurring theme in the charter school debate—has pushed authorizing to the center of the discussion because, many argue, charter schools ultimately reflect the caliber of their authorizer. 

The strength of an independent statewide board, according to proponents, comes from two defining qualities: focus and scope. Its only job is to charter and oversee schools, and, because of that narrow focus and its statewide scope, the board can develop the best, most-equitable way to do that job quickly.

So far, 14 states have created independent charter boards, and, according to data from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the number has increased substantially in the last five years. Mississippi updated its 2010 law this year to include an independent statewide authorizing board, which approved the state's first charter school this summer. In addition, Maine and Washington, also relative newcomers to the charter movement, have created similar boards.

In a July interview with me for that story, Mississippi lawmaker Gray Tollison, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee told me that, in being late to the charter game, his state had the benefit of being able to research what has worked and not worked for other states.

"There were people saying why are we duplicating when we already have a state board of education?" Tollison said. "We said, we want a separate independent organization. We felt there would be some built-in bias, or at least a perception there would be, with the state board of education."

He went on to say that "the state board of education has so many other responsibilities, we thought [charter authorizing] may not be given the attention it should be, especially in the startup phase."
Nationally, authorizing agencies and practices are far from uniform, and the number and types of authorizers, which can include local school districts, nonprofits, and universities, vary greatly from state to state. To see what kind of organizations oversee charter schools in your state, check out this interactive map.

RELATED: Mississippi Board Approves the State's First Charter School

RELATED: More States Create Independent Charter-Approval Boards

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