Time running out for school legislation

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – With the 2012 session winding down, the bulk of legislation still pending either passed and awaits the governor’s signature or is in conference where leaders will try to hammer out differences between the two chambers.
But still left on the House calendar is legislation to vastly expand Mississippi’s charter school law. It is one of the last bills remaining where House members will be asked to either concur and send it to the governor or to go to conference.
Plus, there is one other option.
“The rumor is it is going to die on the calendar,” said Rep. Nick Bain, D-Coritnh.
Unless the legislation is taken up in the House by Thursday, it will die for the session.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said passing charter school legislation is still a priority of Gov. Phil Bryant, the House Republican majority and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate.
Gunn said House leaders “are trying to determine the best product that addresses the concerns of those interested in the bill.”
Gunn said “there is high interest in the bill” by a vast array of groups that want input.
Usually, that input could be garnered in the conference committee process. But because of the unique manner in which the charter school legislation has advanced, many with understanding of the House rules believe that if the proposal goes to conference Gunn would be forced to rule the bill was improperly before the House if a point of order was raised.
A point of order could not be made by a member on a motion to concur and send the bill to the governor. But the bill has been on the House calendar for more than a week, making it apparent to most that the leadership cannot garner the majority vote needed to send it to the governor.
“They don’t have the votes. It is plain and simple,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. “If they were willing to work with people to get their input, they could have gotten the votes. But they don’t want to do that.”
If the leadership does let the bill pending before the House die, Gov. Phil Bryant has said he would consider calling a special session to take up charter schools.
“There are all sorts of options,” to pass charter schools, Gunn said.
Charter schools throughout the country vary widely in format, but in general they are public schools that are allowed to operate outside many of the guidelines governing traditional public schools. Under the legislation pending before the House, charter schools would have to be approved by a newly created state authorizing board.
School boards in districts deemed to be Star, High Performing and Successful under state Board of Education guidelines could veto a charter school in their districts. But the veto authority for boards of Successful districts would last only until July 2015.
The current charter school language was added to another bill in the Senate after the original bill was killed in the House Education Committee this session by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.
Charter school opponents say they worry that charter schools will siphon money and the best students away from traditional public schools. Under the legislation, state and local funds would follow any student who transferred from the traditional public school to the charter school.
But supporters say charter schools would give students trapped in poor school districts a choice and also could provide options to students in good school districts.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

In Negotiations
Legislation in conference committees, where House and Senate leaders try to resolve differences:

• Limit attorney general’s ability to hire outside counsel

• Revamp workers’ compensation laws

• Child Protection Act

• All appropriations bills

• Bond bills, which could include Wellspring
Center for Professional Futures

• Appointed school superintendents

• Phasing out business inventory tax