Revived charter school push in planning stages

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves opted to work to build support for a strong charter school bill during the 2013 session rather than accept what he viewed as a weak version during the 2012 session.
Both Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, chairmen of their respective chamber’s Education committees, said Wednesday they would work to develop that support in the coming months, but were not clear yet on a specific plan of action.
“We are strategizing on that even as we speak,” said Moore, who like Tollison and Reeves, supports stronger charter school legislation.
Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate outside many of the guidelines and governance of traditional public schools.
The inability to come to an agreement on charter school legislation was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 session – the first since the 1800s where Republicans controlled both chambers and the governor’s office.
But Democrats and a sizable number of Republicans teamed up to kill a charter bill in the House. Rather than work on a compromise that could secure a House majority, Reeves said at the time, “Children trapped in failing school districts deserve an opportunity for success, and I look forward to passing real education reform next year.”
Tollison said it will probably be the fall before his committee works on another charter school proposal. He did not rule out the possibility of his committee visiting charter schools in Helena, Ark., Memphis and New Orleans.
“We hope to get with the House Education Committee and schedule some trips – so people can see what we are talking about,” Tollison said.
While Moore, as chairman, supported strong charter school legislation, a majority of the House Education Committee did not. Moore did not rule out the possibility of touring charter schools in other states or bringing experts to Jackson to provide testimony to the Education Committee. He said he also might form a select committee.
The legislation considered last session would create a state authorizing board to oversee and approve the creation of charter schools. Some argued that should be the duty of the existing state Board of Education.
Another perhaps bigger issue during the 2012 session was who would have final say on whether a charter school could be opened. Many supported allowing charter schools only in areas where the existing school district was low-performing based on state Board of Education guidelines.
Reeves and others wanted local school boards to be able to veto the opening of a charter school within their boundaries only in high-performing and star districts. Many believed that school boards in districts deemed to be successful by state Board of Education guidelines also should have veto authority.
Rep. Donnie Bell, R-Fulton, said, “In my area I don’t hear much support for charter schools.”
During the next session, he said he would have to see what was in the bill before deciding how he would vote, but said successful districts should have veto authority.
Bell said, “If successful school districts are in there, I will not vote for it.”
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com