House passes ‘innovative schools’ bill

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Published: March 10,2010

Tags: education, Legislature, schools

JACKSON — Parents would get to restructure operations of a dozen Mississippi public schools that are failing or at risk of failing under a plan that passed the state House March 9.

House Education Committee chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said the so-called “innovative schools” would give a governing board of parents the power to hire and fire teachers and principals. Three such schools would be allowed in each of the four congressional districts.

During a nearly two-hour debate, Republicans fought to replace the “innovative schools” proposal with one to allow charter schools — a similar concept, but one that Brown said was “unworkable” because it was too vague. During the debate, the lawmakers did not specify how the two concepts are different.

When the bill originally passed the Senate last month, it called for charter schools. The bill moves back to the Senate for more work, and likely will end up in negotiations between the two chambers.

Under the “innovative schools” plan, a group of parents could petition the state Board of Education and say they want to change the way a school operates. A school could focus on a particular type of curriculum, for example. If the state board approves the petition, a meeting would be held to explain the plan, and at least 50 percent of a school’s parents would have to agree to accept the plan. Then a governing board of parents would be appointed, and that board would have the power to oversee the school’s operations.

During debate Tuesday, the House voted 65-52 to accept the Senate’s charter school proposal, only to reverse itself more than an hour later after top Democrats persuaded some members to change their votes.

The “innovative schools” proposal was put back into the bill on a 77-41 vote, then the bill passed 88-30.

Several lawmakers argued that Mississippi should improve all its schools rather than trying new operations for only a few.

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said children from low-income families in the Mississippi Delta can’t afford to attend private schools and must depend on state leaders to make the public schools work. Hines said the state has “handcuffed” teachers and “shackled” administrators with bureaucracy.

“We tout ourselves as the great state of Mississippi, but we constantly, constantly destroy education,” Hines said.

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, was among those arguing for charter schools.

“Let’s do something different to see if we can get something different,” Formby said.

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