School start bill in Bryant’s hands

BRYANT

BRYANT

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Bryant said he would review legislation heading his way to repeal a law mandating that public schools not begin the new year before the third Monday in August.

The House quickly and without debate took the final action Thursday morning to send the bill to the governor. The House had voted 66-52 on Tuesday to repeal the school start mandate, but it was held on a motion to reconsider.

Some thought that Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, and the rest of the House leadership might delay the final passage of the legislation. But on Thursday, Moore said, based on the will of the House, he was moving to release the legislation to the governor.

Then, by voice vote, the House sent the bill to Bryant.

Nicole Webb, Bryant’s communications director, said, “If the Legislature’s intent is to revisit something they had already agreed upon, the governor will review whatever they ultimately send him.”

In the 2012 session, the Legislature, at the urging of the Gulf Coast tourism industry, mandated the later school start, saying it would aid the state’s tourism efforts.

The new mandate was supposed to go into effect for the upcoming school year.

But local superintendents have complained that the later start would force some districts to delay semester exams until after Christmas. Plus, some complained that the Legislature was mandating a school start time while also passing a stronger charter school law exempting charter schools from state regulations, such as when school could start.

During the 2014 session, legislative leadership blocked any bill repealing the school start date from making it out of committee. But a group of senators, including Sen. Bill Stone, D-Ashland, successfully amended a technical bill dealing with school administration to repeal the school start mandate.

On Thursday, the House leadership relented and sent that bill to the governor.

In recent years, many Northeast Mississippi schools have started as early as the first week in August, and superintendents indicated they likely would continue to do that, if the governor signs the repeal.

Tupelo already has approved a calendar with the later start, but Superintendent Gearl Loden said the district will revise that if the repeal is signed by the governor. Under the new draft, school would start on Aug. 4, graduation would be May 15 and the last day for other students would be May 20, pending board approval.

Superintendents in New Albany, Monroe County and Lee County also said they would push up their start dates. Monroe County likely would begin on Aug. 7 and New Albany on Aug. 11, pending board approval.

Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks said the district would build a new schedule reflecting the change next week.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

–––––

Chris Kieffer contributed to this story.