JACKSON — And now the waiting begins.
With the July 1 effective date for Mississippi’s expanded charter school law, the next step is to nominate seven members of the Charter School Authorizing Board. The governor and lieutenant governor are each supposed to name three members, one from each of the state’s three Supreme Court districts. The state superintendent of education is supposed to name the seventh member. The law specifies that appointments must be made before Sept. 1.
That seventh member could be Lynn House herself, the interim state superintendent. House confirmed to The Associated Press that she’s willing to serve if the state Board of Education agrees. She said the board could give her the nod at its regular July meeting.
“That’s got to be the board’s decision, but I’d be happy to serve on the charter school board,” House said. “We’re not going to drag our feet.”
The list of possible nominees by the governor and lieutenant governor is a little less obvious. One name you can take off the list is Joel Bomgar, founder and CEO of Ridgeland software maker Bomgar Corp. The state Senate’s Education Committee rejected House Speaker Philip Gunn’s nomination of Bomgar to the state Board of Education in April, citing Bomgar’s membership on the board of the conservative-leaning Mississippi Center for Public Policy, his choice to home-school his children and his policy preferences for education.
At the time, some suggested Bomgar would be better suited to the charter school board. But Bomgar said last week that his focus is on improving all of education in Mississippi and said he’s confident that there are plenty of other good people who could serve on the charter board.
Charter school supporters including the Center for Public Policy and Mississippi First say they are circulating a joint list of possible nominees to Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
They won’t volunteer who’s on it, but say that naming the board could be tricky.
First, both the lieutenant governor and the governor must nominate using the three court districts. Center for Public Policy Executive Director Forrest Thigpen says there could be a glut of candidates in the Central District, which includes Jackson and the southern part of the Delta regions, while the Northern and Southern districts have fewer obvious choices.
“It’s a little bit difficult because it’s the Supreme Court districts,” he said.
Plus, the law specifies that the leaders must “ensure diversity” on the board, as well as nominate members with experience in management, finance, public school leadership, education law, curriculum, instruction and assessment.
The state Senate, which has to confirm all the nominees, will ultimately get to decide whether Bryant, Reeves and House meet those criteria with their choices.
Once the board is in place, it may face an even thornier problem, hiring a leader. The law, whether intentionally or by mistake, reads that the executive director must also be the board’s chief lawyer, licensed to practice in Mississippi and knowledgeable about education law.
Thigpen says one problem is Mississippi lawyers with education experience are likely to be school board attorneys, and inexperienced with charter schools. Thigpen said such lawyers “are not necessarily people who are likely to be huge supporters of the charter school law.”
That could mean a stopgap appointment, followed by a request in January for the Legislature to make amendments to a law whose passage was contentious, even before Mississippi will have a single charter school.
“I would guess the board would hire an interim director and encourage the Legislature to change the law,” Thigpen said.