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State House to take up its own charter school bill

JACKSON — State House members are poised to take up their own version of charter school legislation.

House Education Committee Chairman John Moore said his panel would take up the House legislation this morning.

Moore, a Brandon Republican, said the full House could debate the measure tomorrow or Thursday, if it passes committee. The Senate passed a charter school bill last week.

Charter schools are public schools that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for freedom from regulations. Proponents say charter schools can improve academic achievement, especially among low-performing students. Opponents, though, fear charters will weaken traditional schools by skimming motivated students and money.

House Bill 369, introduced yesterday, would allow broad expansion of charter schools. Current Mississippi law allows a small number of existing schools to convert to charters, but none have done so.

Like Senate Bill 2189, the House bill would set up a seven-member board to approve charter schools and oversee them, with three members appointed by the governor, three members appointed by the lieutenant governor and one member appointed by the state superintendent.

However, the House measure contains some differences than the Senate’s measure. It would:

— Limit charters to 15 a year.

— Require districts rated “A,” ”B” and “C” to approve charters in their districts, unlike the Senate version, which doesn’t give that veto to C-rated districts.

— Block students from crossing district lines to attend charter schools, unless they get a transfer under the current system, which requires the school board of the sending and receiving district to approve the switch.

— Bar foreign organizations from running charter schools and foreign teachers on limited visas from working there. Moore said that provision was to protect against “outside influences.” A Turkish Muslim group operates more than 100 charter schools in at least 25 states.

— Give historically black colleges and universities preference in seeking charters.

— Allow schools to contract with online providers for classes, with authorizing board approval. The House bill does not specifically ban all-online schools, unlike the Senate version.

The Senate version allows students to cross district lines freely. Moore said that’s what he intended in his bill. Barring such movement could make it hard for charter schools in based in small or rural districts to round up enough students to operate. But it could also ease fears that nearby charter schools would poach students from high-performing districts.

That could be a key attraction for Republican House members from some higher-performing suburban districts that have expressed concerns. Last year, one of two charter measures failed in the House Education Committee, and no measure was ever brought to the floor for a vote, in the face of apparent opposition.

Encouraging the state’s three public and two private historically black schools to run charter schools could ease opposition among black Democrats, typically among the staunchest opponents. But it’s unclear if it will actually win any votes. For example, Rep. Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, said he thinks setting up a charter school would be a “great opportunity” for Alcorn State University or Jackson State University. But he said his constituents in Copiah, Claiborne and Hinds counties are still against charter schools.

“I represent the will of the people in the district I represent,” Holloway said. “Right now the will of the people is not to start charter schools.”


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