Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law Thursday allowing students in qualifying public school districts to attend charter schools located outside of their home district.
“Charter school expansion will mean more options,” Bryant’s office tweeted Thursday. “More options will mean better opportunities. Proud to sign SB 2161.”
Proponents of the bill, authored by Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, say it will help underserved students in public school districts get a better education. It allows students in districts with C, D and F rankings to attend charter schools. Previous law only allowed students in F-ranked districts to attend charter schools.
The bill also changes education funding formulas, 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.
“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?” Tollison said last week before the Senate concurred with House changes. “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 lawmakers spoke against the bill, which passed in the House on March 28 by a 64-54 vote and in the Senate on April 7 by a 24-21 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 senator who spoke against the bill last week. 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.
Gunn tweeted a photo of the governor signing the bill Thursday afternoon.