Key vote on charter school legislation expected today

JACKSON — A Mississippi House Education Committee vote on a charter schools bill will wait until today.

Yesterday’s committee meeting ended abruptly without a vote, with Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, promising to meet again today. Some Democrats said the Republican majority lacked votes to pass the bill.

“It was going to be close right now,” Moore said afterward.

The panel rolled out changes to Senate Bill 2401, which would expand charter schools in Mississippi. Proponents say the alternative public schools promise improved performance in exchange for freedom from regulations. Opponents fear a dual school system that drains money from traditional public schools.

The new House version allows school districts with state ratings of successful, high performing or star to reject charter schools. That means 82 of the state’s 152 school districts could opt out, although many charter school advocates portray successful districts as providing only mediocre educations to students.

Students from anywhere could cross district lines to attend charter schools.

“Personally, I would rather have charter schools available in all 152 school districts, but in an effort to compromise with the members, we’ve done this,” Moore said.

The bill would create a seven-member board to authorize charter schools, with three members appointed by the governor, three appointed by the lieutenant governor and one by the State Board of Education.

Kept was a provision from the Senate bill that requires half the teachers at a charter school to have state certification. The original House version didn’t require any teachers to have state certification, although advocates say all teachers will have to meet federal qualification standards.

Charter supporters have tried to ratchet up the pressure on lawmakers who could be key swing votes. Last week, FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C., group that has worked to channel tea party activists, urged pressure on six “anti-reform” House members. They include Forrest Hamilton, R-Olive Branch; Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven; Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat; Pat Nelson, R-Southaven; Nick Bain, D-Corinth; and Jody Steverson, D-Ripley.

Bain, though, said the attack only caused him to deepen his opposition.

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