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Charter School Legislation Fate Unclear

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 12 Apr 2012 08:04pm | comments

The clock is ticking for the Mississippi House of Representatives to vote on a revived bill to expand charter school laws. That vote could come at any time in the next two weeks, but as MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports, it is unclear if charter school supporters have the votes they need to pass the bill.

Legislators in the house have just two choices on the newly revived charter school bill....approve it as it passed the senate or invite a conference between the two chambers.

The deadline is late April but the timing of the vote depends on when Education Committee chairman John Moore of Brandon decides to bring the bill to the floor.

"We will have charter schools. It might not be next week. It might not be next month. But we will have charter schools before this term is ended. And that is not a commitment of mine per se, it is a commitment of the Governor, the lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House," Moore said.

Moore says he has not counted the votes in the House to see if it has enough support but it could be an extremely close vote.

Democrats have presented the main opposition to the charter school bill.

Representative Cecile Brown of Jackson, a former chair of the house education committee, is worried about the makeup of the independent authorizing board and believes the bill might not even be legal if it is passed.

"It violates some of the provisions of No Child Left Behind by not requiring that all teachers be highly qualified which No Child Left Behind absolutely requires. And so it is jeopardizing some of the federal funds that come to the state. There are just a lot of problems with it," Brown said.

But Democrats are not alone.

A handful of Republicans voted against a previous version of bill when it died in the House education committee.

Name calling and reports of physical confrontations by from some observers followed that vote.

The tone of the debate worries even Charter School supporters like Nancy Loome with the Parents Campaign.

"It is very unfortunate that those have been the loudest voices. Because there are plenty of us who would like to see a better education system for our children and would like all our children to have an opportunity for success," Loome said.

Both Representatives Moore and Brown disagree that the nature of the debate is having an impact on the fate of the legislation saying controversial issues often draw passionate conversation.

For a brief, interactive history on the charter school debate – name calling and pushing included - visit Southern Education Desk.org.

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