Thursday, February 6, 2014
Bill would allow schools flexibility
By SUE WATSON
State Sen. Bill Stone and Rep. Jerry Turner are pushing a bill that would help school districts place more emphasis on teaching and maybe a little less energy on administrative regulations.
SB 2238, the Senate version of HB 112, would provide statutory authority to school districts to place more emphasis on educational outcomes of students. Five districts a year could be approved and step around some regulations in order to try something innovative.
Stone, of Holly Springs, explained why he and 16 co-sponsors of the bill think more flexibility could help school districts. He said the plan is known as the “Kentucky Plan.”
“The idea is to give the existing, traditional public schools the opportunity to free themselves from all of the onerous regulations that charter school advocates say is the reason we need charter schools,” Stone said. “I think this is what we should have done instead of creating authority for charter schools (last year). An almost identical bill passed the House last year nearly unanimously.”
The plan, if approved by the Mississippi Department of Education, could be for an entire district or a single school within that district, he said.
“This bill was unanimously endorsed by the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi at its November meeting and presented to legislators at the legislative summit in December,” he said.
“As the only legislator on the Commission, I introduced the bill. Marshall County commission members are Dr. Gemma Beckley, Sarah Sawyer and Andre’ DeBerry.
“The recommendation came from a task force co-chaired by Bill Renick (an at-large commission member) and Eddie Prather.”
The bill will not affect Common Core as the schools must still meet the Common Core Standards, Stone said.
“It would just give them flexibility on how to do it (teach),” he said.
Like charter schools, districts of innovation would not have to adhere to many of the guidelines and governance requirements of traditional public schools, but must meet certain standards, Stone said.
One such rule that could be waived under this bill would be that a person could teach a specific class without holding a teaching certificate, he said.
Other states have similar legislation and SB2238 was patterned after some of these states.
Under the legislation, school districts could apply for the new status and the state could authorize up to five districts of innovation a year, if approved by the state board of education. A district would have the label for five years.
Those schools that do not meet the standards and goals for a district of innovation will lose the designation. Participation is on a voluntary basis and the request to participate must come from the local school districts.
Stone said it is worth a try.
“We just need to start and see how it goes,” he said.
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