A bill that would exempt top-performing school districts from state regulations such as continuing education for teachers passed the House of Representatives on Monday.

House Bill 1224, authored by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, would allow school districts rated as A and B by the state education department to no longer be required to report student grades to the Mississippi Department of Education and complete surveys from the department, among other requirements.

The bill, passed on a 79-40 vote, would also exempt teachers from being required to complete continuing education requirements. The bill also allows A and B school districts to offer incentives to teachers such as loan forgiveness and housing and moving expenses.

Several Democrats, in more than an hour of debate, expressed concern the bill would pull much-needed teachers away from struggling school districts and into successful school districts. They also questioned the fairness of awarding privileges to high-performing school districts and not C, D and F-rated school districts.

House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, pointed out, however, several incentives and programs that have been put in place for those districts.

“We’ve put incentives in these areas, especially D and F districts — if teachers (in those districts) get their National Board Certification, teachers get more than they do in my district (Rankin Co.),” Moore said.

He also pointed to the School Recognition Program, which is expected to be funded this year. Under that program, if a low-rated school moves up a grade in the state rankings, it will receive $100 for every student in the building. Moore noted that B-rated districts will receive $75 per student, while A-rated districts will receive $100 per student.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, asked Rep. Brad Touchstone, R-Hattiesburg, who handled the bill on the floor, whether he had considered the “disparity this legislation would create among different school districts?”

“F and D districts have certain demographic and socioeconomic issues that may be contributing factors there,” he said.

Touchstone said the exemptions for A and B districts are minimal and mostly affect administration.

Rep. Brad Touchstone, R-Hattiesburg Credit: Mississippi House

“If a school district is succeeding under the standards we set … I think it is burdensome to require them to do all of these various reporting items that really are not that helpful,” Touchstone said. “For instance, going through this incredible statute about how to pick a textbook. If we know they’re succeeding well, why do we want to make them go through this onerous process?”

Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, compared the effects of the bill on teachers to free agents in sports.

“They can jump around and get paid over here, jump around and get paid over here. The teacher will go over into this district and when they lose that A or B rating will go to another district, sign onto another team,” Hines said. “One school district is about to get loaded up, another school district is going to be struggling on the bottom.”

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, offered an amendment to remove the section of the bill allowing A and B-rated districts to choose whether to employ a school attendance officer. The amendment passed.

“We do still have the highest dropout rate of anybody, and I just think that is taking this a step too far,” Holland said after noting he would be voting for the bill despite it being “very punitive to C, D and F districts.”

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Kate Royals

Kate Royals

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.