The House Education Committee wants the state to withdraw the accreditation of school districts found in violation of any state law or section of the Mississippi Constitution.
While supporters of the bill said it had nothing to do with the law that requires schools to fly the state flag, some opponents suspected otherwise.
House Bill 280, authored by Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, and Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, would give districts 30 days to correct a problem before facing loss of accreditation.
Criswell and Formby said they have had parents and teachers in their districts complain about schools violating state law. They gave examples ranging from unlawful hiring practices to adding students to special education classes to get more funding then removing them from the class.
“So you would bring a complaint against JPS (Jackson Public Schools) or any school that chooses not to fly the state flag?” Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond, asked.
“If you don’t like it, you should repeal the law and not let people just go around it,” Criswell responded.
Rep. Ashley Henley, R-Southaven, a former teacher, spoke from a “boots on the ground” perspective. She expressed concern that the bill did not include any protection for teachers who file a complaint that could be tracked back to them.
“This is great, but then you still have to go to work and still have to see your principal and your superintendent, and there’s nothing in this bill to change or protect any of that,” Henley said.
While skeptical at first, Henley ultimately voted for the bill, explaining that she would offer an amendment to protect teachers when the bill goes further through the process.
The state has recourse in certain situations under current law but cannot, for example, do anything more than tell a superintendent he or she must fly the flag or correct its hiring process. The local superintendent is then responsible for the next move.
In some situations dealing with federal dollars, such as complaints concerning special education, the Department of Education has more authority, said State Superintendent Carey Wright.
“We have a federal stick, now we’re giving them a state stick,” Criswell said.
The bill now goes to the Constitution Committee for consideration.
The House Education Committee also passed another bill Criswell authored that would require any millage increase on behalf of schools to be voted on by the community. The goal, Criswell said, is to give more of a voice to the people and to make it harder for any tax increases to pass.
The costs of any elections would be paid for by the school board.
Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, questioned whether the bill is setting a double standard for school boards.
“Whenever our city council or supervisors have to increase millage for infrastructure or whatever, we don’t make them go to a vote,” Barker said.
Dortch asked why the Legislature would pass a bill making raising local taxes for schools more difficult when a new school funding formula could require some school districts to raise taxes to make up for lost state money.
“Your bill would hamstring their (communities’) ability to do that, is that not correct?” he asked.
Criswell said tax increases “should be difficult.”
Criswell’s bill passed by a vote of 12-10.
The committee also passed:
HB 145: allowing local per-pupil funding to follow a student who transfers districts
HB 275: to offer loan forgiveness to assistant teachers who teach in critical shortage areas for at least three years
HB 527: requiring school districts to implement financial literacy curriculum in high schools
The Senate Education Committee passed:
SB 2398: require school superintendents to have six years of experience, three of which are as a school principal
SB 2461: administratively consolidate the Perry County and Richton School districts effective July 1, 2019
SB 2431: allow the Mississippi Department of Education to appoint an interim superintendent versus a conservator and to require school districts to maintain a C rating for five consecutive years before coming out from under state control