By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The House Education Committee considered but did not pass legislation to reduce the required number of days in the public school year from 180 to 175.
House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, delayed a vote on the measure Wednesday after numerous committee members expressed concerns. Moore asked them to go home to their districts to get input from teachers.
Moore said the shortened school year would give districts the opportunity to adjust their calendars to take into account such items as the later school start the Legislature mandated two years ago. At the time, most of the state’s superintendents opposed the mandate that school could not start until after the third Monday of August.
Moore, the sponsor of the bill cutting back school day requirements, said it is his understanding that after statewide testing is completed late in the school year there is “not a child being taught a thing,” so giving districts the option to shorten the school year would not harm learning opportunities.
He also said teachers have told him little instruction occurs the final week before Christmas and the week before spring break.
Rep. Forrest Hamilton, R-Olive Branch, responded angrily, “If that is happening we need to do something about it. I don’t like that at all. Mississippi is on the bottom.”
Rep. Rufus Straughter, D-Belzoni, said he was a long-time teacher and it was not happening.
“I am appalled that there are people around this table who think teachers do not do anything,” he said. “…We want to beat up on teachers all the time.”
Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, asked if reducing the number of school days and the number of days a teacher must work from 187 to 177 (as the bill does) would be like giving them a raise.
State Superintendent Carey Wright, who attended the meeting, said she could not support the proposal. She said the trend nationwide is to increase the amount of time students spend in school.
The debate occurred against the backdrop that later this week (perhaps today) the Education Committee will consider proposals to provide a pay raise to teachers.
Also on Wednesday, the committee passed legislation to take about 375 employees at the state Department of Education out from under the Personnel Board, which means in effect that they would be removed from civil service protection.
Wright, who was hired late last year to oversee the state’s public school system, said she needs time to look at reorganizing the agency to ensure it is providing local school districts with the services they need.
After the two years are up, the agency would be placed back under the Personnel Board.
The committee also approved legislation, supported by the Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation, to allow local school systems to apply to the state Board of Education to be districts of innovation. A district of innovation would be exempt from some state regulations, but still would have to meet academic performance and safety standards.