By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The state Senate passed comprehensive charter school legislation Wednesday after more than four and a half hours of debate in which the Republican leadership fought off nine proposed amendments.
The bill passed 34-17 and now goes to the House. All 31 Republican senators voted for the measure.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the bill was needed because “one size does not fit all. There are places where the parents are frustrated with the level of education their children are getting.”
He said charter schools are allowed to be more innovative than the traditional public schools.
But others argued that the legislation would only take resources and the top students away from traditional public schools. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, asked Tollison, “What are the rules we need to free up schools from and why don’t we do that for all schools?”
Charter schools receive public funds, but do not have to follow many of the rules governing traditional public schools. They agree to meet certain academic results when a charter is granted.
Sen. Bill Stone, D-Ashland, expressed concern that in poor-performing districts, charter schools would siphon off the good students. “The parents who take the most interest will be the ones to fill out the application” for the charter school, Stone said.
A state authorizing board would consider charter school applications by groups wanting to operate them in low-performing and successful school districts. Local school boards in high-performing districts could block creation of a charter school in their area.
An amendment was defeated that would have allowed local boards in districts deemed successful also to veto the creation of a charter school.
At least $5,015 per student in state and local revenue will follow the child going from a traditional public school to a charter school. The charter school would not be answerable to the local school board or to the state Board of Education, but would be required to meet state accountability measures.
The original Senate proposal also had a provision allowing virtual or online charter schools, but it was removed in the Senate Education Committee. No amendment was offered in the full Senate to place the virtual school component back in the legislation.
State law currently allows a limited number of what are known as conversion charter schools in low-performing districts. A conversion charter occurs when an existing school operates under a charter.
How They Voted
Vote of Northeast Mississippi senators on charter school legislation: For – Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo; Gary Jackson, R-French Camp; Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth; Gray Tollison, R-Oxford.
Against – Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc; Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Russell Jolly, D-Houston; Bill Stone, D-Ashland; Bennie Turner, D-West Point;
J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont.