Panel votes today on charter schools

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Charter school legislation will be voted on today in the Senate Education Committee, and it’s getting a major push from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves said he supports a broad bill that will permit charter schools to locate anywhere in the state and allow online schools where a student can earn a degree without attending a “brick and mortar” school.
Reeves held a news conference in his state Capitol office Monday to endorse the bill, authored by Sens. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, Education Committee chairman and vice chairman. He is holding similar news conferences throughout the state, including today in Tupelo.
The bill, assuming committee approval, will likely be taken up by the full Senate later this week. Charter school bills have also been introduced in the House, where the leadership supports expansion of the law.
Charter schools receive public funds but operate outside some of the regulations governing traditional public schools. Their charters, which under the pending legislation would be issued by a newly created state board, would specify the results expected.
Various groups support expanding the state’s charter school law. But some, such as the Mississippi Economic Council and the Parents Campaign, a statewide group looking to improve public education, say the new charter schools should be limited to chronically low-performing districts.
Reeves said he supports allowing charters in any school district. But he does support the concept in the pending bill that would give school boards in Star and High Performing Districts, about 21 percent of the total, final say on whether charters could locate in their districts.
Some want to allow school districts deemed “successful” by state Board of Education standards to also have that option.
“I believe average is not good enough,” Reeves said Monday. “We have to raise the bar for kids. We have to say being successful is not good enough anymore.”
The bill also would allow virtual charter schools. Reeves said theoretically this could allow parents to receive local, state and federal tax dollars to educate their children at home. Under the Senate bill, the tax dollars spent to educate the child would follow the student to any state-approved charter school.
With online virtual schools, Reeves said it is key to have good safeguards in place and only sign charters with groups that have a proven track record of success.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com