Tollison: Best school districts could get more freedom

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said Wednesday consideration might be given to allowing high-performing school districts to have many of the same freedom as charter schools.
Tollison made the comments Wednesday in response to a question from Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, during a joint hearing of the House and Senate Education committees where charter schools, improving the state’s reading scores and evaluating teachers were discussed.
Much of the focus of the upcoming 2013 session is expected to be centered on efforts to pass legislation making it easier for charter schools to locate in the state.
Charter school concepts nationwide vary widely, but generally they are public schools that are not bound by many of the rules governing traditional public schools. They enter into a charter with the state, agreeing to performance levels.
In draft Senate legislation that was discussed Wednesday, state, local and federal funds would follow the student to the charter school.
Tollison said that there are some discussions of exempting high-performing districts from the 37 process standards that public school districts are required to meet.
But that issue was not covered in the draft proposal discussed Wednesday by the joint committees. The draft was essentially the same that passed the Senate last session – giving high-performing (A and B districts under state Board of Education standards) the authority to veto charter schools in their districts.
In 2012, charter school legislation died in the House Education Committee.
“This (draft proposal discussed) is where the Senate is starting,” said House Education Committee Chair John Moore, R-Brandon. “We’re working on our bill right now.”
Moore predicted a key difference would be that the House proposal also will give school boards in C districts veto authority.
Both bills, Moore said, establish a new board with members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and state superintendent of education the authority to approve charter schools in D and F level districts.
The boards also heard a presentation by Mary Laura Bragg, national director for policy of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, about Florida’s program that retains students in the third grade if they cannot read on grade level.
Bragg said the program includes early testing, intervention, individualized instruction to fit the student’s needs, summer reading programs and new training for teachers and principals. Bragg said principals will direct their best teachers to teaching reading when they understand the emphasis the state is placing on being able to read on grade level before advancing past the third grade.
She said it has been a success in Florida where fourth -graders recently placed first worldwide with students from Hong Kong and Finland on reading proficiency.
In Mississippi, 46 percent of third-graders currently are proficient nationally in reading, said Laurie Smith, education adviser to Gov. Phil Bryant.
Bryant has proposed $15 million in his budget for a third-grade reading program similar to Florida’s.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com