Charter school bill passes major hurdle

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Charter school legislation passed a major hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by the House Education Committee – the same panel that killed it in 2012.
It passed 16-14 after a contentious 90-minute debate where opponents again questioned the wisdom of taking funds from traditional public schools and supporters said charter schools would help improve overall educational outcomes.
The full House could vote on the issue later this week.
“I would like to see charter schools support what is going on with public schools,” said Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, who explained the legislation. “It is not a competition.”
Busby was appointed to the pivotal committee late in 2012. In a controversial move, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, removed charter school opponent Linda Whittington, D-Schlater, and replaced her with Busby.
Whittington was in the crowded committee room when the legislation passed. If Whittington had remained on the committee and no other votes changed, the legislation would have passed by one vote. Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, a strong charter school proponent, would have broken the tie.
Rep. Tom Weathersby, R-Florence, who voted no last year in committee, voted yes this year. Weathersby said this year’s version was less objectionable.
It gives school boards in districts accredited at the A, B and C levels veto authority over charter schools. The bill also prevents students from crossing district lines to attend charter schools.
The Senate-passed proposal would allow students to cross district lines and would give only A and B districts veto authority.
Both proposals create a separate agency to authorize and oversee charter schools, which receive public funding but are exempt from many regulations governing traditional public schools.
Rep. Joe Gardner, R-Batesville, said it is an issue of priorities.
“Mississippi does not have but a few dollars, I am told,” he said. “If we can’t fund one (school system) how can we fund two?”
Two Democrats voted for the proposal while four Republicans, including Steve Massengill, R-Benton, voted no. Nick Bain, D-Corinth, also voted no while other Northeast Mississippi committee members – Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville; Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie; and Brad Mayo, R-Oxford – voted yes.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com