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Groups tell Miss. charter school board they could apply to open as many as 17 schools

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JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's charter school board has received letters from 10 organizations that say they intend to apply for 17 schools.

The board is scheduled to vote on approvals in December. It can approve up to 15 schools per year, but earlier this year approved only one at the end of the first-ever application process. Reimagine Prep in Jackson, serving fifth grade through eighth grade, is scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Mississippi lawmakers in 2013 approved an expanded law allowing charter schools — public schools run by private groups that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for less regulation — after a two-year fight.

Some groups may not follow through with a full application due by Sept. 15. Last year, 19 groups indicated interest in opening 30 schools, but only 12 groups applied.

Four groups want to open a school in the city of Jackson, but interest spans 11 districts from Moss Point to Tunica County. Some groups seek to open schools in more than one district, and each school is a separate application.

Some of this year's applicants are groups who applied last year but were found ineligible for various reasons, including not having federal nonprofit certification. Also reapplying were the two other groups who were declared eligible besides Reimagine Prep but whose applications were turned down by the board — the Inspire Charter School in Columbus and the Phoenix Early College Charter School in Natchez.

"I was impressed that we had the numbers and the quality that we had," Charter School Authorizer Board Chairman Tommie Cardin said of the expressions of interest.

Only a few applicants have ties to groups that already operate successful charter schools elsewhere, which is the type of applicant that many charter supporters say they most want in Mississippi. The board is trying to hire a woman who has overseen charter schools in Louisiana's Recovery School District — Marian Schutte. Cardin said that he hopes that if the board is successful in hiring her, that she will be able to improve both outside and Mississippi-based applicants.

"That's really going to help us tremendously in being able to publicize the process and reach out to operators across the country who might be interested," Cardin said. "She also appreciates the importance of local operators."


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