Clock ticks on charter revival

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The state Senate has today and Wednesday to act in what appears to be the last chance to revive charter school legislation during the 2012 session.
The legislation died last week in the House Education Committee, but a proposal pending before the Senate could be amended to revive it. That effort must be made by Wednesday, which is the deadline to take up general bills in the chamber where the bill did not originate.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been a vocal proponent of charter school legislation, would not say if the Senate planned to try to insert it in another bill today or Wednesday.
“We are still in consultations with attorneys and others … to determine what are options are,” Reeves said. “We will make that determination at the appropriate time.”
Many believe House Bill 1152, which is alive in the Senate, could be used as a charter school mechanism. That bill makes minor changes to the state’s current, limited charter school law that allows whole schools that are “chronically under-performing” to be converted to charter schools.
Another option is a special session. When the bill died in the House Education Committee, Gov. Phil Bryant said he was considering calling a special session to take up charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside of the guidelines and governance of traditional public schools. Supporters say they would provide choice for students, especially in low-performing school districts, while opponents said they would siphon money and the best students from the traditional public schools.
Even if the Senate is successful in amending the charter school bill, it is not clear it would pass the House.
“I think it would be a pretty close vote,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. While Republican leaders in both chambers have voiced support for charter schools, some Republicans in the House voted against the proposal in the House Education Committee and some have indicated they would do the same on the floor.
Rep. Jody Steverson, D-Ripley, said he would not make a commitment on how he would vote until he sees the proposal that comes from the Senate. But in general, he said he would prefer to see some pilot charter school programs in low-performing districts before the concept is enacted statewide.
“But right now the people in my district are totally against it,” he said.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com