Thursday, April 12, 2012
Charter school legislation tops talks
By SUE WATSON
Local interest ran high on some state legislative bills at a recent board of supervisor meeting, following updates by Gary Anderson, county consultant to the Legislature in Jackson.
Anderson reported that District 13 Rep. Steve Massengill, on the House Education Committee with Rep. Eugene Hamilton from DeSoto County and Rep. Pat Nelson from Southaven, was in the eye of the storm as the House committee had to take a vote on SB 2401 – the charter school bill. The House Committee rejected the bill by a vote of 16-15 Tuesday, April 3. That means the bill is dead unless Gov. Phil Bryant seeks to remedy the language in the bill to make it palatable to House members by calling a special session.
Anderson said three Republican members of the DeSoto County delegation voiced opposition to the charter school bill.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said he opposes charter schools because the daily allotment for each student that moves to a charter school will go with the student to the new school, thus drawing money away from the public school system.
Larry Hall, county administrator, said people do not know the impact charter schools would have on local school districts.
Anderson said there is a charter school industry that would run these schools like a business. They would look for where the most money is being spent on education and go there, he said.
“They do not want to go to places like the Delta where no money is spent,” he said. “DeSoto County built all those schools and dedicated itself to public education, and they do not want to walk away (from public schools).”
Bennett said as charter schools seek ways to cut costs of operations, they could also cut education.
“An error was made when some who were pushing the legislation did not think it out,” Anderson said.
He believes the political environment is right, however, for charter schools.
Some House committee members were getting hit with hate text messages, he said, and blasted by some radio talk show hosts in the state. And some national groups from Washington, D.C., have also been sending hate messages to some of the local delegation, he said.
“It is making them draw the line on this bill and not vote for it,” he said.
Hall said charter schools would be required to meet the same standards of testing as public schools.
Bennett asked, “Will the state take those schools over if they are not up to par? You can’t pull (take over) a business (charter school business).”
Hall said the state could revoke the charter.
Massengill said Wednesday that he voted against the Senate’s charter school bill, along with five other Republicans in the House. He agreed that some lawmakers, including himself, took some heat from the Tea Party and Freedom Watch out of Washington that put out fliers. His name was found on a flier circulated in Oxford, he said.
Some of the negatives in the bill, as Massengill sees it, include:
• the bill would only require 50 percent of charter school teachers to be certified. The House Bill that died in committee would have required no certified teachers, he said.
• the money follows the children and this withdrawal from public schools would hurt the public school districts financially.
• parents and children would have to sign an agreement for children to stay in school longer each day and to have an extended school year. There would be no sports in charter schools.
• the charter school industry says it is non-profit, but has been able to lobby the Legislature heavily for a vote for it.
• a pilot program to try charter schools in three failing school districts would be useful. Massengill said he would be for a limited pilot program tryout.
• Benton and Marshall counties, which have schools on academic watch, would be subject to formation of charter schools, if the legislation passes. Successful public schools would not be threatened.
Massengill said he has heard that proponents of SB4201 and charter schools hope to either attach the charter school as an amendment to another bill in order to get it passed, or to call a special session within the present session. May 5 is the last day of the 2012 regular session of the Legislature unless something comes up, Massengill said.
He said he expects there will be further attempts this session to pass a charter school bill or legislation.
Sen. Bill Stone said he opposed SB 4201 for a number of reasons.
“The only thing I would be in favor of at this point is to do a pilot program with some students and the same amount of money and see how they perform,” he said.
Stone believes the pilot program should include the full range of student population as is now in public schools rather than choosing a select group to study.
“Basically, this is unproven technology,” he said. “I believe to get in these charter schools, parents have to take the initiative to get their children in. Those parents are the people who take initiative in public school, are more involved and keep up with what’s going on.”
Stone said the charter school allows the “cream to jump off the top of the milk.”
He wants a controlled experiment with charter schools to see if the concept is successful in improving student achievement and then if it is successful, the concept should be applied back to all schools.
“My second concern is what is going on at the Capitol,” he said.
He said there is a strong lobby in Jackson for charter school legislation, which is an indication that the industry expects to make big profits.
“I want to add, in places where you have the best public schools, those are the places where everybody is pulling in the same direction,” Stone said. “Further fragmenting of our educational system, I don’t think, is prudent.”
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