Rep. Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs Credit: Mississippi Legislature

The House Education Committee on Thursday passed a slew of bills, including two that would reduce the number of days in the school year and the number of days schools can administer tests.

Committees are busy working to pass bills ahead of the Jan. 31 deadline for bills to pass out of committee and go to the House floor for a possible vote.

House Bill 866 would limit the number of days of state testing to three. Currently, the Mississippi Department of Education requires no more than three days for any required test. It would also limit school districts’ benchmark assessments to no more than 20 days.

Rep. Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs, presented the bill to the committee.

“We’ve all been told about standardized tests being administered between 40 and 60 days, (and there are) a lot of upset teachers and parents,” Guice said. “(There are) people telling us about having to teach to the test and things of that nature. This is an effort to curtail that to limit it to 20 days.”

House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, clarified that there has been a misconception that the state is responsible for all testing days.

“All of us receive complaints from teachers and superintendents about all the testing days when in fact, testing days are done by the district itself, yet they’ve blamed the state,” Moore said.

The committee then passed House Bill 293, authored by Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, which reduces the number of days in the school year from 180 to 170.

“What we just did with the reduction of testing days to 23 allows for … more instructional days,” Guice said. “We can reduce the school year … while still allowing teachers more instructional time.”

Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes offered a failed amendment to the bill that would have made kindergarten compulsory. In Mississippi, children are not required by law to be in school until they are 6 years old. All school districts, however, are required to offer kindergarten.

“We need to make sure we don’t allow parents to just keep their kids out and they show up in 1st grade behind, causing more teachers to give more attention to them,” Williams-Barnes said.

“It’s a very small percentage, but I think we need to make sure our 5-year-olds are in school,” she said.

The amendment failed 8-16 after Guice said he opposed the amendment because he didn’t know what effect it would have on the main purpose of the bill — to reduce the number of school days.

The committee also passed:

HB 1050, to allow any remaining money from a student’s Educational Scholarship Account to roll over to the next year

HB 1037, to require school districts to provide additional resources for students who need but cannot afford testing for dyslexia

HB 499, to provide for the removal of appointed school board members for certain reasons

HB509, to require the Department of Public Safety to include proper etiquette after getting pulled over by law enforcement in its driver’s education courses. That bill passed the House Transportation Committee last week.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.

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