House deals blow to charters

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Republican House leadership, unable to garner the votes to send charter school legislation to the governor, opted Monday to place the bill in conference.
The decision to go to conference where House and Senate leaders will try to hammer out a final compromise was unexpected and was seen by some as the death knell for the bill.
“I am disappointed the majority of the members of the House did not agree with the Senate’s plan to bring meaningful changes to Mississippi’s educational system,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, an ardent supporter of the bill, said in a prepared statement. “… I look forward to passing real education reform next year.”
It is generally believed that sending the proposal to conference is the same as killing it under legislative rules because of the way the legislation developed.
After charter school legislation was killed in the House Education Committee, Reeves and his leadership team in the Senate amended a bill to include essentially the same charter school language. Under House procedural rules, the bill upon return to the House language would be subject to a point of order that would kill it. The bill would not have been subject to the point of order if the House had passed a motion to concur with the Senate and send the bill to the governor for his signature.
But the leadership has been unable to garner the majority vote needed.
“We were gaining two votes per day” not to concur, said Rep. Pat Nelson, R-Southaven, who said he could support expanding Mississippi’s charter school law, but the pending proposal was too expansive.
House President Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said if the proposal that comes out of conference has broad support, “nobody may raise a point of order.” If no member raises a point of order, a vote would be allowed on the proposal.
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, speculated on another possible outcome. If an agreement with broad support is hammered out in conference, Bryant could call a special session. In special session that compromise would not be subject to a point of order.
After the House Education Committee killed the charter school proposal earlier this session, Bryant said he would consider calling a special session. But in recent days, charter school supporters have been focused on trying to send the proposal in the House to the governor.
On Monday, they gave up on that option. House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, who had worked to send the bill to the governor, made the motion to go to conference instead. It passed on a voice vote with no debate.
Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate outside many regulations governing traditional public schools. Opponents say they would siphon money and the best students from traditional public schools. Supporters say they could provide a choice for students in poor performing school districts and provide options for students in other districts. Therein lies part of the problem.
Reeves and the Senate have been insistent that charter schools be allowed in successful districts without the approval of the local school board.
Many in the House said they prefer allowing charter schools to locate only in poor performing districts. Plus, many in the House say they favor the state Board of Education having authority over charter schools instead of a newly created authorizing board proposed by the Senate.
In making the motion to go to conference, House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, said he wanted to propose some new language that would allow only entities with proven track records in running charter schools to operate in Mississippi.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com