Thursday, February 7, 2013
Legislators weigh in on charter schools
By SUE WATSON
Members of the Marshall County delegation to Jackson say charter school legislation, SB 2189 and HB 369, is on the fast track in the Legislature, getting a push from Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant.
“It is the lieutenant governor’s number one priority,” Sen. Bill Stone said last week.
He said the Senate bill, the Mississippi Public Charter School Act 2013, has fewer constraints than the House Bill, the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013.
Stone said he is against the act for a number or reasons.
“I don’t think the time is right considering our history,” he said.
“We didn’t fully fund what we’ve got now, and we are now trying to set up a second system. That is my biggest issue with the legislation. I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to tie charter school legislation to fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, but the amendment failed.”
Stone said Arkansas and Tennessee have charter schools and are trying them out, but the data is not in on how charter schools are performing against public schools, as yet.
“The one in Arkansas seems to have worked well, but has backing from private entities and is not relying only on public education dollars,” he said.
Stone said he sees the real problem with the funding.
“You start having students jump out of public schools and you start dividing up the ad valorem school tax,” Stone said. “You really create a situation where supervisors are forced to raise local taxes.”
The mechanism for regulating charter schools, in the legislation, would create a Mississippi Public Charter School Authorizer Board – three members appointed by the governor, three by the lieutenant governor and one by the state board of education. A separate agency would be set up to regulate charter schools.
He said legislators are concerned by the history of segregated school systems in the state and how charter schools could more or less reverse desegregation by virtue of pulling dollars out of the public school districts.
Stone said the legislation has been discussed for 10 or more years in Jackson.
“The for-profits lobbied, lobbied, lobbied,” he said.
Some other concerns, Stone said, are:
• charter schools can elect to be in the state retirement system in the Senate bill. In the House bill, charter schools cannot participate. There was a floor amendment proposed in the Senate that would have made participation mandatory. There was a House amendment proposed that would have allowed optional participation.
• the group insurance plan would be left up to the charter school.
• charter schools could recruit teachers away from the public school districts.
• charter schools are expected to pay teachers less than the public schools. “I think they will try to keep salaries down,” he said.
Rep. Kelvin Buck discussed the legislation, which has passed both houses and now each is looking at the other’s bill.
Buck said the legislation is being presented as a non-profit public school designed to foster innovation in education.
“However, I have some concerns about it,” he said. “I am not opposed to innovation. I’m opposed to both bills at this point.”
Buck said he is in favor of trying out charter schools, but only on a limited basis. The House bill puts stronger limits than the Senate bill, he said.
Buck made the following points about the bills:
• “We don’t know where the money is coming from.”
• “We don’t know the impact it will have on the public schools left behind.”
• “We do not know where the teachers will come from.”
• “We do not know where the transportation will come from.”
• “We do not know the impact it will have on local taxes. It could really increase ad valorem school taxes.”
If the Charter School Act is passed, implementation could begin as early as July 1, 2013, Buck said. He serves as vice-chairman of the insurance committee, and serves on the committee on universities and colleges, and on the Medicaid committee.
Buck said he believes Medicaid expansion is going to be the next hot topic in the Legislature after charter schools.
Buck said he is not ready for full throttle on charter schools.
“They worked on it in the summer of 2012 and started aggressively the first week of this session,” he said. “I hope we can defeat it until we can do a little more study on it.”
Rep. Steve Massengill said he voted against the charter school bill in the House because of the way it will be structured.
“To start a charter school they want to create a new board to review and approve applications – another expense,” he said.
Under the House bill, school boards can veto any application in A, B, or C school districts, but do not have to approve charter school applications in D or F districts, he said. For example, Union, DeSoto and Lafayette counties are B districts, while Benton County and Holly Springs are C districts, according to the Mississippi Report Card. The school boards could refuse to approve applications in those districts, Massengill said. Marshall County is a D school district and a charter school would not have to get approval from the board of trustees in Marshall County, he said. Charter schools in D or F districts only need authorization from the state.
A school that opens with 120 students would cause the county public school district to lose about $1 million in funding, he said.
“The talk in Jackson is that most charter schools would open with 100 to 120 kids,” Massengill said. “Supervisors could be asked to add money (for school districts).”
Massengill included the following considerations:
• charter schools could help a small number of children. “I want all of our kids to get the best education,” he said.
• the charter school would still have to fund transportation.
• there are no sports allowed in the Senate bill.
• the House bill does allow sports.
• the Senate bill excludes A and B school districts while the House bill excludes A, B, and C districts.
• the House bill requires 75 percent of teachers to be certified the first year and the other 25 percent to be certified in three years.
• charter schools are required to meet all state graduation and performance standards.
• charter schools can set their own school day schedule, even if they want to go to school on Saturdays. They must meet the state’s mandated number of days attendance as does the public school system.
• parents must participate in their child’s education in the charter school system. “You usually have better kids when parents are involved,” he said.
• the state is already short by 2,000 teachers.
• charter schools can set salaries and cannot participate in the state retirement system in the House bill.
• charter schools are not required to pay health insurance but they may provide a plan.
• under the House bill, only 15 charter schools can be authorized by the state each year. There is no limit in the Senate bill.
Rep. Bill Kinkade voted in favor of the House bill, but is not fond of the Senate bill, he said.
“The House bill was crafted around last year’s discussion, which needed the new improvements and recommendations,” he said. “This bill is a strong, good bill, crafted for D and F schools. There is no way to determine the impact it will have on counties with regard to the impact from private schools and home school applicants, if any.
“Obviously, our county cannot afford a new millage or a subsidy.”
Neither does he believe Marshall County will qualify for charter schools under the House bill. He said he expects the county school district to be either C or B this year.
He said constituents in DeSoto County are not for the charter school bill because they already have a successful education system.
He said he does not believe the House will pass any changes in the House bill in conference.
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