By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The House Education Committee abruptly recessed late Wednesday after more than an hour of debate on charter school legislation without voting on the bill.
“They didn’t have the votes to pass the bill at this time,” said Rep. Greg Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, who had voiced concerns with the legislation. “There was heated debate. The discussions were good, but when it came time to vote, they didn’t have the votes.”
As discussions continued on the legislation, several people spoke privately with House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, who then said, “We have a situation” and asked for the committee to be recessed until this afternoon.
After the meeting, Moore conceded the vote was going to be close, but predicted the proposal would pass out of the Education Committee and be considered by the full House in the coming days. He said he did not mind having to delay the vote to give members time to consider the legislation, which he called “historic.”
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the governance and many of the guidelines of traditional public schools. Enacting charter school legislation is a priority of the Republican leadership of both the House and Senate and of Gov. Phil Bryant.
Earlier this session, the original House charter school bill died when it was not called up before the deadline for a vote by the full chamber. There were questions about whether the leadership had the votes to pass that proposal. It had passed out of the House Education Committee by a slim margin and some of those voting for it had expressed concerns.
Trying to respond to those concerns, Moore had offered amendments to the bill that the committee was considering Wednesday. The main amendment would have required the approval of the local school board before a charter school could locate in districts deemed by the state Board of Education to be Star, High Performing or Successful.
In districts deemed to be on Academic Watch, Low Performing, At-Risk of Failing and Failing, someone wanting to start a charter school would obtain approval of a state authorization board. The charter school creators would enter into a performance charter with the state board and, if terms of the charter were not met, the school could be closed.
Moore said the charter school would be “another option” for parents in low-performing districts.
Others argue charter schools would siphon the best students and resources away from traditional public schools.