Senate revives charter bill

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Charter school legislation, which earlier appeared dead, was revived Wednesday in the Mississippi Senate.
The Senate voted 31-19 to amend a House bill that made minor changes to the state’s existing and narrowly defined charter school law to include more expansive language. Senators earlier in the session passed a broad charter bill, but the House Education Committee voted it down by a single vote.
The bill now returns to the House, where members can accept the Senate language or invite negotiations between House and Senate leaders.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said it was important to revive the bill “to give kids trapped in failing school districts an opportunity to succeed.”
Charter schools are public schools allowed to operate outside many of the regulations governing traditional public schools while promising to meet state standards. Under the Senate legislation, charters would have to be approved by a newly created state authorizing board.
School boards in districts deemed Star, High Performing and Successful under the ranking system could veto charters in their districts. But the veto authority for boards of Successful districts would last only until July 2015.
Reeves said he had been working with the House leadership on a compromise that could pass the chamber. But on Wednesday, some House members, such as Nick Bain, D-Corinth, said they could not support the proposal because it is essentially the same language killed earlier by the House Education Committee.
Opponents say charter schools should be confined to pilot programs in low-performing districts. They worry that charters will siphon money and the best students away from public schools. Under the legislation, state and local funds would follow students who transfer to a charter school.
“If we get charter schools in here and they are successful, there is no reason those methods cannot be emulated in traditional public schools,” said Sen. Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, has consistently asked why traditional public schools could not also be exempted from guidelines. He pointed out a day earlier the Senate passed legislation mandating when local boards could begin the school year, yet charter schools would be exempted from that mandate.
The proposal the Senate passed Wednesday received three fewer voters than it did when earlier in the session.
Chris Massey of Nesbit was the only Republican to vote against it. Two Democrats – Nickey Browning of Pontotoc, and Haskins Montgomery of Bay Springs – voted for it. Massey followed the course of his fellow DeSoto County Republicans in the House who joined with Democrats to kill the charter school proposal in committee.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com