Senate urged to pass House charter bill

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, wants the Senate to pass the House charter school bill in the coming weeks and send the proposal to Gov. Phil Byrant for his signature.
“The bill we passed I think is as strong a bill as we can pass down here,” Gunn said last week. “I think what we passed is a solid bill that will accomplish a lot of good.”
The charter school issue, which has been cast to the side after dominating the first weeks of the 2013 legislative session, will be front and center again soon.
The Education committees of the two chambers have until March 5 to consider the bill passed by the other house. As long as one of the two bills passes out of one of the Education committees, the issue will remain alive.
Normally, legislation of this sort ends up in a conference committee late in the session where leaders appointed by the two chambers’ presiding officers try to work out differences.
But Gunn said “my wish” would be for the Senate to accept the House bill and be finished with the issue that the Republican leadership of both chambers and Republican Gov. Phil Bryant have made a top priority.
Gunn has a reason for not wanting the House to face the issue again. When the House debated and passed charter schools earlier this session, the debate started at about 2:30 p.m. and lasted until nearly 1 a.m.
Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said it is too early to predict how he will deal with the House charter school bill.
“It is one of many House bills we have,” he said. “We will start discussions this week about the options we have.”
The House version gives school boards in districts accredited at the A, B and C levels veto authority over charter schools in their districts and prevents students from crossing district lines to attend charter schools.
The Senate proposal allows students to cross district lines and gives only A and B districts veto authority.
The Senate proposal places no limit on the number of charters, while the House allows only 15 per year.
Both create a separate agency to authorize and oversee charter schools.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com