Charter school bill passes committee; on to full senate - - Jackson, MS

Charter school bill passes committee; on to full senate

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Senate Bill 2401, the state's charter school legislation sailed through a senate committee Tuesday morning.

As it stands now, the bill would allow for an unlimited amount of charter schools to open their doors in districts rated successful or lower without approval of local boards.

Higher rated districts would first have to give the go ahead.

Funding is set to come from per student figures already in place.  

"The idea that putting charter schools everywhere will not cost Mississippi more money is simply ludicrous," said Nancy Loome, Executive Director of The Parents' Campaign.

Loome says she's all for charter schools, but has concerns that the bill isn't addressing the main problem, which is under performing school districts.  

"We simply cannot afford to create new schools where we already have excellent public schools," Loome said. "That is fiscally irresponsible and it keeps us from focusing these charter schools where the kids desperately need them."

Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Burnham, Superintendent of Education, says he has concerns as well, mainly because the bill's requirement for teacher certification is just a bachelor's degree.  

"Those individuals may be highly competent but that's not likely unless they have a background in the content that they're going to be teaching," Dr. Burnham said.

Before passing the senate committee part of the bill was taken out all together.

It's the part that would have allowed for virtual, or online charter schools.

There wasn't much support from the committee at all.

Senator David Blount, (D) Jackson, gave the amendment to pull the provision out saying it's not a path Mississippi needs to experiment with.  

"There's just not the evidence there that virtual charter schools have been successful," Sen. Blount said.

Both Burnham and Loome agree saying track records from other states aren't so great.

Burnham was hoping the bill would allow for the department of education to be the authorizing agency for charter schools.

That power will be up to a seven member board instead.  

"As we continue to move forward, we'll have a good piece of legislation that'll make a difference for the children of Mississippi," Dr. Burnham said.

The next step in the process is the full senate where the bill will be debated next.

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