Not all education bills tied to budget issues

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Much of the focus during the recently completed 2010 legislative session centered on budget woes and how to deal with an unprecedented drop in state tax collections.
The budget problems also were the main issue during the session for the local school districts.
Despite the financial issues, some legislation that could have an impact on the operation of local school districts was passed and signed into law in recent days by Gov. Haley Barbour.
Probably the most notable education bill not related to the budget was the New Start School Program and Conversion Charter School Act.
Charter schools can take many different forms, but in general they receive public funds while operating outside some of the rules and regulations of traditional public schools.
Under the legislation, parents could petition the state Board of Education to convert their school to a conversion charter school. Before the parents can make such a request, though, the school must be identified as a poor-performing school, based on state accreditation standards.
Plus, the state can have only 12 charter schools – three per congressional district.
The students in the conversion charter school must come from the regular attendance zone of the school.
An election would be held to select five parents to serve on the school’s governing board. That board would be responsible for hiring and firing personnel.
In additional to the conversion charter school provision, the new law contains language to create what will be known as new start schools. This would give the state the authority to take over and govern chronically low-performing schools.
Charter school proponents had wanted legislation that would not place limits on the numbers and types of charter schools. But it has been difficult to get charter school legislation out of the House in recent years.
Senate Education Chair Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, a charter school proponent, said the legislation was a step in the right direction. Some opponents of charter schools said the legislation could ultimately hurt traditional public schools by directing resources away from them.
Another bill establishes a task force to look at the teacher shortage and make recommendations to the 2011 Legislature.
Still another bill put in place a program to allow students to pursue a career track in which they could take technical courses at community colleges or at technical schools while still enrolled in high school.
Barbour also signed into law legislation to require school districts to develop policies to deal with bullying.
Some legislation was passed to deal specifically with the current budget shortages. Barbour recently signed a bill that would allow school districts to furlough teachers three of their required seven days of staff development.
But they would receive a personal day for one-half of the furloughed day, meaning they would lose pay for half of the time they were furloughed.
“This is another tool for districts to deal with what is going to be a difficult budget situation,” state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said. “Some districts won’t have to use this, but others won’t have any choice.”
The hope is the option of furloughing will prevent districts from laying off as many teachers to deal with the budget woes. Another option considered during the session, but ultimately rejected, was to reduce the required minimum number of school days from 180 to 175.