Charter passes Senate, 31-17; Jolly votes against it

1STOCK Mississippi_State_Capitol PLAINby Bobby Harrison

NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday’s passage of charter school legislation is the first of several steps they plan to make this session in an effort to improve the state’s schools.

Moments after charter school legislation passed the Senate by a 31-17 vote, Reeves said what will come out of the Senate this session “is a number of measures when taken in their entirety can make a difference for education in our state.”

Those include making all superintendents appointed and developing programs to improve third grade reading.

In three and a half hours of debate Wednesday, Democrats argued that charter schools would not improve education in the state, but take money and resources from traditional public schools.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, noting that public schools have been underfunded according to the state’s formula by nearly $1 billion since 2008 “Not only are we not funding public schools like we should, but now we are taking money away from them” to create what he called a “a parallel school system.”

Reeves and Tollison have donated a lot of time and energy to charter schools. They have held hearings, visited charter schools in other states and made it a clear legislative priority.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate outside of many regulations governing traditional public schools.

At one point, Bryan asked why a charter school organization would not take over an existing low-performing school district in the state, which under current law is permissible. Tollison responded that a charter group would not because it would be “set up for failure” and that charter schools wanted to start on a smaller scale.

Two of the chamber’s Democrats – both African-American members – voted for the proposal.

No Republican recorded a no vote, but Chris Massey, R-Southaven, paired, meaning he would have voted no, but instead he did not vote to offset a yes vote who was not there.

Tollison said the bill, which died last year in the House, was changed this year to try to win additional support by requiring the charters to serve a certain percentage of a district’s “underserved” students.

No effort was made to amend the bill to allow school boards in C-accredited districts to veto the location of a charter school within their borders.

Under the bill, schools boards in districts accredited at the A and B levels have veto authority. In the House, various members have said they will not support legislation for charter schools in A, B and C districts.

An amendment offered by Sen David Blount, D-Jackson, to put the charter schools under the existing state Board of Education instead of creating an additional board was defeated.

Also defeated was an amendment by Sen. Bill Stone, D-Ashland, to require full funding of education before charter schools could be created.

The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday had removed a provision allowing virtual, or online, charter schools. It is not clear when the House will take up the measure.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

How They Voted

Votes of Northeast Mississippi senators on charter school legislation:

FOR – Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo; Gary Jackson, R-French Camp; Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth; Gray Tollison, R-Oxford.

AGAINST – Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc; Russell Jolly, D-Houston; Bill Stone, DAshland; J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont.

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