OUR OPINION: Risky school measures alive in several venues

By NEMS Daily Journal

Public school watchdogs’ legislative work increased Wednesday when the Mississippi House invited conference with the Senate on House Bill 890, a package of education proposals, including charter schools favored by Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and several other controversial initiatives also alive in other conference committees.
The bill, which was held on a motion to reconsider after failing Tuesday to win a majority for conference, passed 61-56, but House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, offered no assurance an agreement acceptable to the House could be worked out with Senate conferees.
As amended by the Senate, the bill would widen provisions allowing charter schools and gradually raise entry standards for teacher education. It would give a veto over local charters to C-rated districts for only three years.
Many House members want A, B and C-rated districts to have permanent vetoes, and that could be a sticking point in negotiations.
House Bill 890 also includes third-grade reading proficiency, higher standards to become future teachers, and new measures for literacy for students in kindergarten through third grade.
HB 890’s charter school provisions may be in the bill in violation of legislative rules; that and other measures require careful monitoring wherever they remain alive:
• Allowing for-profits to manage charter schools, placing emphasis on profits more than pupil progress.
• Charter school language that would allow students from any school district to cross district lines to attend a charter school, an invitation to over-crowding, financial distress and conflict counterproductive to better learning.
• An unfunded mandate to increase literacy in the first three grades without funding reading coaches, additional training for teachers, and providing retention of children without improving instruction, a sure formula for avoidable failure.
The bill would abolish the ability of schools scoring C on the state’s rating scale to veto charter schools in those districts after 2016, a move widely considered an unnecessary loss of local autonomy, erasing the possibility of a C district moving up to high-performing B or A status.
Charter schools, as newly published information from other states suggests, are not the cure-all touted by Mississippi proponents.
Charters, at their best, could be helpful in failing districts where students need the specialized attention the best charters offer.