TUPELO – Mississippi’s lieutenant governor would like to amend the state’s new charter school law.
Tate Reeves was among the primary forces behind the 2013 state law that allowed Mississippi’s first charter schools. For it to truly have an impact, he said on Wednesday, it must be changed to allow students to cross district lines to attend those schools, which are publicly funded but given the flexibility from many of the rules that govern traditional schools.
The prohibition on crossing district lines resulted from concerns about local tax money following students to other districts. However, Reeves said, many struggling districts where a charter school could help are too small to support one under the current law.
“The areas that need public charter schools the most, the Mississippi Delta for example, tend to be areas that have the smallest school districts,” Reeves said while meeting with the Daily Journal editorial board. “If you have the smallest school districts and you don’t allow for kids to go across district lines, then the likelihood that a charter school can be successful in one of these districts is relatively low.”
During his meeting with the Daily Journal’s editorial board, Reeves spoke at length about education and school reform measures. Those included:
• His support for a bill authored by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, that would provide $6,000 scholarships for 500 to 800 special-needs students to attend private schools. That bill was passed by the Senate in 2014 but not approved by the House.
Reeves noted that the state’s graduation rate for special-needs students is about 23 percent.
“At the end of the day, if we have a 23 percent graduation rate amongst that student population, we as a state are not doing a very good job with that population,” Reeves said. “I think most everyone agrees that we are not doing a very good job. There is obviously wide disagreement to what is the right approach in fixing it.”
The lieutenant governor said there have been conversations about how the bill might be changed to garner more support.
• His concerns about a ballot initiative that would ensure full funding of the state’s schools. If passed, Reeves said, it would take away the responsibility from elected representatives and give it to a judge in Hinds County, where the initiative would send grievances.
The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is the state’s funding formula to determine how much state money each school district should receive. It has been consistently underfunded, including by $257 million this year.
“I think you will see a continued effort to increase funding for K through 12,” Reeves said. “I’m for full funding of MAEP.”
Providing full funding, Reeves said, would “take the excuse off the table” from administrators who are not doing a good job.
• The Common Core State Standards, new guidelines for teaching language arts and math that many states, including Mississippi, will begin fully implementing next year.
“The opponents are very concerned about the federal government taking over and making curriculum decisions, et cetera,” Reeves said. “I share those fears and so we are monitoring the implementation very very closely to ensure that that doesn’t come to fruition.”