House rejects new statewide school district

djournal-Education_apple_booksBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Legislation that would create a statewide district to govern chronically low-performing schools was rejected Wednesday by the House.

The legislation, creating the Mississippi Achievement School District, was recommitted 60-55 to the Education Committee. Nine Republicans joined the minority Democrats in essentially killing the bill for the session. But similar legislation is pending in the Senate, keeping the issue alive.

Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, defended the legislation on the House floor, saying, “We need to give these kids (in chronically failing schools) a better…option. This is a way to do it.”

Opponents argued that there were too many unanswered questions in the legislation, such as that there is no mechanism to return the school to the local district. Plus, under the bill there would be nothing to prevent the taken-over schools from being converted to charter schools.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said, “The bill will take away forever that local school from the people it serves and place in it some agency down in Jackson.”

The legislation would create the Achievement School District Board with three members each appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor and one member by the state superintendent.

The board would hire a superintendent and staff. The district would receive the share of state and local funds the schools would have received.

Under similar legislation pending in the Senate, the Achievement District would be overseen by the state Department of Education.

Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the legislation is needed to replace the existing law that requires the state Board of Education to take over chronically failing schools. He said the board is not in position to take all schools that would be eligible for takeover.

In the House legislation, a school must be at F level for two consecutive years to be placed in the Achievement District. Busby said about 50 schools could be eligible if the law was in effect now.

The legislation would not impact current law that allows the state Board of Education to place an entire district in conservatorship after the governor declares a state of emergency in the district.