JACKSON, Miss.--After nearly ten hours of debate, discussion and many failed amendments, a charter school bill (House Bill 369) has passed the Mississippi House of Representatives. The vote of 64-55 was taken about 1 a.m. Thursday.
One amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) would have forced full funding of MAEP before any charter schools would have been allowed. That amendment failed 66-50.
Many Democrats have opposed the bill and any other charter school legislation, calling it dangerous for public education in the state. People who support the idea of charter schools say they will provide competition for failing schools and school choice for kids who are in a bad district. The schools could only be created with the support of parents and the House bill would give A,B and C level school boards veto power to reject a charter school in their district. It also calls for a limit of 15 charters per school year.
The Senate passed a charter school bill earlier. Both bills will have to be reconciled in conference before going to the governor for his signature. He said in his State of the State address that he intends to sign a "good charter school bill".
After over five hours of debate and discussion, Rep. Bob Evans demanded the bill be read in its entirety from the floor. At that point many representatives left and returned after midnight when it was time for a vote.
House Speaker Phillip Gunn released this statement after he and 120 other House members burned the midnight oil:
“I couldn't be prouder of our members today,” said Speaker Gunn. “Passing bipartisan public charter school legislation is the first step in reforming Mississippi's education system. Parents deserve more choices with regards to their student's education.”
In addition to Charter School legislation, Speaker Gunn and House members plan on bringing forward an entire package of educational reforms during the 2013 session. Some of the focal points include emphasis on the third grade reading level, appointed superintendents and tax-credit scholarships.
“As I’ve said before, charter schools are just one tool in the toolbox,” said Speaker Gunn. “My focus this session is on education reform as a whole. Our system is broken and needs to be repaired. Our children deserve better. With our proposed legislation, our school children will have more opportunities to excel.”