JACKSON — State senators want to end the election of local school superintendents, raise the requirements for becoming a teacher and limit the state’s ability to take over schools in Mississippi.
The state Senate has passed bills to do all three. Each bill goes to the House for more debate.
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill that would require the state Department of Education to refigure the state’s public school funding formula annually. Such a move could, at least for a time, cut the amount of money per student called for by the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. That bill moves on to the Senate.
Senate Bill 2199 calls for all local superintendents to be appointed by school boards, unless voters opt out. Now, 62 superintendents in county districts are elected. Heads of the remaining 89 city and county districts are appointed. The Senate passed the bill 45-6. Republicans control both chambers.
Superintendents could still be elected in any district where voters choose to continue. A referendum would be called if 20 percent of registered voters — or 1,500 voters, whichever is less — sign a petition. Such elections could only be held in November 2013 or November 2014. If an election is not held, the superintendent would automatically become appointed.
Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said the measure would allow small districts to look beyond their own borders for leaders, and allow school boards to remove ineffective superintendents without waiting until the next election.
“It will improve school governance,” Tollison said.
House Bill 1530 would require the state Department of Education to recalculate each year the base student cost that drives MAEP. When the formula was originally enacted in 1997, annual recalculation was required. Several years ago, lawmakers changed recalculation to once every four years.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said an annual update will give budget writers a more accurate idea of schools’ expenses. Right now, it would reduce the gap between what the state is actually spending and the higher amount called for in the formula. For the budget year beginning July 1, the school budget would have to rise $321 million to hit what the formula considers full funding.
The sum considered “adequate” is based on what certain school districts spend and it would fall $100 million or more on recalculation because districts have spent less during the recession. That dynamic could reverse during better economic times.
Senate Bill 2658, which passed 42-9, is part of Gov. Phil Bryant’s Education Works package. The pared-down version of the bill removed a plan for statewide open enrollment and the Senate passed a separate bill aimed at improving third grade reading scores.
What’s left raises the requirement for entry to teacher preparation programs at the state’s public universities. It says that a high school senior must score at least 21 on the ACT college test and earn a 3.0 GPA to study education.
The state would offer scholarships of up to $15,000 a year at state or private colleges for prospective teachers with a minimum 28 ACT score and a minimum 3.5 GPA. An amendment tacked onto the bill gives scholarship recipients a $6,000 bonus salary each year for five years if they teach in a D-rated or F-rated school after graduation.
The measure also creates a teacher merit pay pilot plan in Lamar County, Clarksdale, Gulfport and Rankin County districts, and requires high schools with graduation rates below 80 percent to submit plans to increase the share of graduating students.
Senate Bill 2124 says state officials can take over a school district only for three years if it’s for financial reasons, unless the governor grants an extension. But before passing 49-1 Tuesday, it was amended to say that the state could hold onto a district for academic reasons for seven years.
Sen. Steve Hale, D-Senatobia, the bill’s author, says the bill is meant to make it clearer what tasks must be completed before a district is returned to local control
The state currently controls eight districts: Aberdeen, Hazlehurst, Indianola, North Panola, Okolona, Oktibbeha County, Sunflower-Drew and Tate County.