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House votes down Senate's charter school bill

JACKSON — Mississippi House members don’t want to proceed with a Senate-backed education bill that includes a proposal for charter schools expansion.

The House voted 60-58 to reject a conference with senators on differences over House Bill 890. The bill also includes provisions raising entry standards for teacher education, remains on the House calendar and could be voted on again before tomorrow.

“This is just one step in the process,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who noted that another charter school bill was already in House-Senate negotiations. Other proposals within House Bill 890, including the teacher qualifications provision, have also been sent to conference committees as parts of other bills.

Gunn did say there was little chance the House would agree with the Senate changes and send House Bill 890 straight to Gov. Phil Bryant without further negotiations.

“I’m confident the votes don’t exist to concur,” he said.

Five representatives switched their votes to “no” after voting “yes” in January on a narrower House charter schools bill. They include Rep. Manly Barton, R-Moss Point; Donnie Bell, R-Fulton; George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg; Chuck Espy, D-Clarksdale and Gary Staples, R-Laurel. Rep Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, who had not voted in January, also voted against the bill.

In all, nine Republicans voted against sending the bill to negotiations, while only three Democrats were in favor.

As amended by the Senate, the bill widens provisions allowing charter schools. Crucially, it gives 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 over charter schools. Some House members also object to provisions that would allow for-profit management organizations run non-profit charter schools, or that would allow students to cross district lines to attend a charter school in another district.

Gunn has said repeatedly that a House majority won’t support such provisions, especially removing the veto of C districts, and Tuesday’s vote could strengthen his hand against Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ push to do so.

Bell said he objects to all three of those provisions, which are changes from the House-passed bill. He also said he objects to requirements for prospective teachers to score 21 on the ACT college test.

“The people I represent do not want charter schools,” Bell said. But he’s subject to pressure in Jackson. “The governor and the lieutenant governor, they support the legislation,” he said.

Republican leaders who favor the bill have been hunting for additional support in the House. For example, Reeves held a meeting with a number of House members, all but one Democratic opponents of the bill, trying to find ways to win their backing for charter schools. It was unusual that Reeves bypassed Gunn, a fellow Republican, to try to bargain directly with members of the chamber Gunn leads.

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