The House’s bill – approved after a marathon floor debate – limits charters to 15 a year statewide, gives school boards in districts rated A, B or C a veto, and prohibits students from crossing district lines. The Senate bill doesn’t have a limit, doesn’t give a veto to C-rated districts’ trustees, and allows students to cross lines everywhere.
The continuation of more local control in the House version holds more open the possibility of improvement beyond “C” ratings, a potential demonstrated in numerous school districts. At the same time, passage of a charter bill signals to all districts that maintenance of historic local control rests on improved performance.
The House leadership was faced with certain bipartisan opposition that would have derailed a broader bill. Its pragmatic approach in fashioning a bill that could pass demonstrates the productivity of reasonable compromise. Even though the vote was still largely along party lines, some of the principal concerns of opponents, both Democratic and Republican, were addressed.
The House version closes a loophole that would allow for-profit charter ventures, which was a major point of contention. That action, along with a prohibition of virtual charter schools also included in the Senate bill, doesn’t guarantee that all charter operators will be reputable and successful, but it helps.
Lee County Rep. Steve Holland’s unsuccessful amendment requiring full funding of the existing Mississippi Adequate Education Program before any charter implementation made a valid point: Even as charters are allowed, the state must live up to its statutory obligation to adequately fund the traditional schools that will still house all but a small number of students.
The strongest justification for charter schools is as one means of helping improve student performance in the lowest-performing districts. The House bill is closer to that more focused concept than the Senate’s.
A revised charter school law is far from being placed on the books. The Senate’s version goes to the House; the House version goes to the Senate. The process of eventually reaching an agreement could be long and tedious.
The House’s bill isn’t perfect, but its more restrained approach is the better course.