Charter schools pass first hurdle

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Charter school legislation, minus the online virtual school component, passed the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday and is expected to be taken up by the full chamber later this week.
The committee removed the virtual charter provisions from the bill on a voice vote.
Various business and education groups have endorsed strengthening the state’s charter school legislation this session, particularly as an option in under-performing school districts. But the Mississippi Economic Council, state Board of Education and the Parents Campaign, an education advocacy group, have opposed online virtual schools and allowing charter schools to be created without the approval of the local school boards in areas with successful schools.
Under the legislation that passed Tuesday, only school boards in districts ranked at High Performing and Star, based on the state Board of Education accreditation system, could veto the creation of a charter school in their area.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who with Vice Chair Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, authored the bill, said Tuesday it gives charter schools “a framework for innovation.”
Charter schools are considered public schools and receive state and local tax revenue for the students they instruct. But they are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that traditional public schools must follow.
“This is the first step in the process,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, who offered the amendment to remove the virtual charter school component. “I believe we improved the bill this morning. Hopefully, by the end of the process we will have a good bill.”
Blount said studies have shown in other states that the virtual charter schools have not been successful. Tollison argued that because of ever-changing technology language to allow online schools was needed in the bill.
But most committee members voted for Blount’s amendment to remove the virtual charter school language.
Sam Bounds, executive director of the state Association of Superintendents, said the charter school focus should be in low-performing districts.
He said the successful districts have to be improving academically to garner that accreditation. It makes more sense, he said, to try charters in areas where the districts are not improving. Currently more than 230 schools statewide are under-performing.
House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, said he will begin work soon on a House version. He said the goal is to have a final charter school product that has broad support.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com