House panel OKs charters

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JACKSON – Charter school legislation passed out of the House Education Committee late Wednesday, but by a much closer than expected margin.
The legislation, deemed as one one of the top priorities of the new Republican majority, passed 14-12 by a show of hands. The bill passed Wednesday was amended to put in more accountability and more restrictions than were in the proposal as it passed out of a House Education subcommittee earlier this week.
The bill passed out of the full committee Wednesday would prevent charter schools from locating in districts that are High Performing or Star. It would allow virtual charter schools, but cap expenditures of them to 2 percent of the total funds spent by a district on instruction. Local school boards, as well as a state authorizing board, could approve charters in districts ranked Successful or below.
Despite the changes to put more safeguards in place, the legislation still barely passed. House Education Committee Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, assured members that additional changes would be made to the legislation as it advances in the process.
The virtual school component was removed from the charter school bill that passed the Senate earlier this month. Opponents have argued that virtual charter schools in other states have a poor track record.
There has been a groundswell of support for charter school legislation this year, particularly in the areas where local school districts are low-performing,
On Wednesday morning, a group called the Black Alliance for Education Options held a news conference at the Capitol to lobby for charter school legislation.
The group argued that charter schools would provide another option for black parents whose children are more likely to be in a school district that is low performing. One of the group’s main speakers at the news conference was former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a Democrat.
“There is a role for charter schools in the education marketplace,” Herenton said. “…Public schools should not be feel threatened by charter schools. They only represent another option.”
Charter schools receive public funds, but do not have to follow many of the rules and regulations of traditional public schools. Under the House bill, for example, no charter school teacher would have to be state-certified. Under the bill, state, local and federal funds would follow the student to the charter school.
Some worry that charter schools would siphon money and the top students away from the public schools.
Rep. Chuck Espy, D-Clarksdale, one of the bill’s sponsors, said it’s possible that “an academy might say let’s just shut down and send our children to the new charter school,” but added that was not likely.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com