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Business group adds to Miss. charter school push

Jeff Amy, Associated Press

Bomgar Corp. Chairman Joel Bomga, at podium, leader of a group of 22 business leaders, the Better Education for Mississippi, speaks Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, during a news conference at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss. The group supports creating a separate board to approve and regulate public charters, instead of giving that role to the state Board of Education. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A group of 22 business leaders is calling for a broadened charter school law in Mississippi, asking legislators on Monday to enact a law that would allow the schools to set up in any district.

The group calls itself Better Education for Mississippi and is led by Bomgar Corp. Chairman Joel Bomgar, who leads a Ridgeland-based software company. He said the group wants to spark fundamental change among the state's schools.

"By success, we don't mean incremental improvement of where they already are," Bomgar said.

He said all Mississippi parents should have a choice of schools for their children. His group supports creating a separate board to approve and regulate public charters, instead of giving that role to the state Board of Education.

"Mississippians are fed up with the dismal results and want meaningful change now," Bomgar said.

Better Education for Mississippi has a Republican tinge. It includes C Spire Wireless CEO Hu Meena, Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson, EastGroup Properties chairman and former Mississippi Development Authority chief Leland Speed, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Dennis, former state Republican Party chairman and ambassador to Tanzania Mike Retzer, and former chief of staff to Gov. Kirk Fordice Andy Taggart.

Bomgar, whose company makes software that is used by universities and others, said he and other members of the business group did not have a financial interest in seeing charter schools open.

Mississippi law allows some failing schools to be chartered if a majority of parents request. Supporters want to make it easier to take over failing schools. More crucially, they want to allow new charter schools to be created.

One of the key points in the debate over charter schools last year was whether local school boards should get a veto over allowing a charter school in their district. Many lawmakers fought to give vetoes to districts whose academic performance is rated C and above. Bomgar said no school districts, even the highest-performing, should be able to block charter schools.

He cited an analysis showing even highly-rated districts have failing schools, with 50,000 students by his group's count attending D-rated or F-rated schools in districts rated C or above. About 490,000 students attend public schools statewide.

Better Education has a more aggressive charter school position than the Mississippi Economic Council, the state's chamber of commerce. Last year, MEC supported allowing broadened conversions of existing failing schools, but its proposal was narrower than the bills debated by the House and Senate.


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