The Senate narrowly passed and sent to Gov. Phil Bryant a bill Thursday to allow students in failing public school districts to attend charter schools located outside of their own school district.
“I commend the MS Legislature for passing SB 2161, assuring MS students will have more educational opportunities w/ public charter schools,” Bryant’s office tweeted shortly after the vote. Bryant was among state Republican leaders who advocated the charter school expansion at the beginning of the legislative session.
By a 24-21 vote, the Senate concurred with changes made by the House. The bill also reallocate some education funding to charter schools, allowing public allocations to move with a student from the public school system to a charter school.
Current law allows students to attend charter schools only within their own school district. The new bill allows students to cross district lines to attend a charter school.
Proponents of the bill say it will help underserved students in public school districts get a better education. It allows students in C, D and F districts to attend charter schools.
“You’re telling me it’s right to tell a kid who goes to a failing school that we need to keep sending them there without any other options?” Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford and author of the bill, asked during debate before the vote. “This bill is simply to give those kids options. If I had a choice, I’d want to go to a school that succeeds. And who’s against that?”
Several senators spoke against the bill, which passed in the House March 28 by a 64-54 vote. Opponents have said that taking funding from public schools would hurt the already-failing districts.
Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said the solution to solving Mississippi’s education problems is not jumping “from concept to concept,” adding that the focus on charter schools was just another way to avoid funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).
Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, was the lone Republican who spoke against the bill on Thursday. He pointed to what he called progress regarding public education in Mississippi this legislative session, referencing bills that would mandate district superintendents to be appointed instead of elected and consolidating certain underperforming districts.
McMahan said taking money from public schools is wrong.
“Until there’s evidence that shows charter schools work, I’m standing with public schools,” he said.
For students who cross district lines to attend a charter school in another district, the bill says that the Mississippi Department of Education shall pay that charter school property tax receipts and payments that would have gone to the local school district of each student enrolled.
For students enrolled in a charter school within their school district, the district would be the one to pay the charter school proportional property tax receipts and payments that would have gone to the school district.
Soon after the vote, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Florence, released a statement praising the bill’s passing.
“This is another step in ensuring that every child in Mississippi has an opportunity for success in life,” the statement said. “This bill should open up the possibility of public charter schools in smaller districts in the Delta and other small struggling districts throughout our state. I appreciate the work of the legislature to get this done.”