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Miss. Senate committee OKs charter school bill

Jeff Amy, Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Legislation to expand charter schools in Mississippi is once again moving forward, as the state Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 2189 on a split vote Tuesday.

The action came after Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves met privately with committee members Monday evening. The bill was released Tuesday morning.

"This is just kind of picking up where we left off in the 2012 session," Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told committee members Tuesday.

The bill would give districts rated "A'' or "B'' a veto over whether charters can locate there, while "C'' and lower-rated districts wouldn't get a veto. Many House members favor allowing C-rated districts to have vetoes as well. Students would be allowed to cross district lines to enroll in charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools that agree to meet certain standards in exchange for freedom from regulations. Proponents say they can improve achievement in Mississippi. "I don't know of anybody who has ever thought charter schools would be a panacea, but they do provide parents with options," said Forrest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative-leaning group that has pushed for charter schools.

Opponents fear they will skim motivated students and money from traditional schools.

"The public school system does well," said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, a retired teacher and opponent of charter schools. "The only thing wrong is you don't have the resources you need."

A separate seven-member board would 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.

Tollison said the bill required charters to serve a proportion of underserved students at least 80 percent as large as the share of underserved students in the charter's home district.

"The intent of this is to meet the needs of underserved students in the state," he said.

The measure included a provision that would have allowed up to three online charter schools to operate statewide, but that measure was stricken on an amendment offered by Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. He said that without a daily supervision of students, "those virtual charter schools are not going to deliver the results."

The Senate passed similar bills last year by votes of 34-17 and 31-19. Charter measures failed in the House.


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