February 13, 2014 10:04:00 AM
JACKSON -- Fears about loss of local control and more charter schools led Mississippi House members Wednesday to reject a plan for a separate statewide school district to take over individual failing schools.
Representatives voted 60-55 to send House Bill 502 back to the Education Committee. Nine Republicans joined with 51 Democrats in a vote that killed the measure.
The overall idea may not be dead, though. A similar bill awaits consideration in the Senate.
House Bill 502 would have created an "Achievement School District" to take over schools that score an "F'' on the state's rating system two years in a row. The proposal would've created a separate school board consisting of three appointees by the governor, three by the lieutenant governor and one by the state superintendent of education.
"Obviously, something is not working in Mississippi. We need another way to do it," said Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, who handled the bill before the full House.
In fall 2013, Mississippi had 51 individual schools that were rated "F'' for two years in a row.
The structure would mirror districts set up in Louisiana and Tennessee to try to improve schools. Like the Mississippi Senate bill, those states don't have separate boards for their districts, entrusting oversight to their state departments of education.
Opponents objected to the district's power to take schools from local control for indefinite periods of time, even as districts would be sending property taxes to the achievement district to pay for the schools.
"This super-district takes away a school forever. Forever," said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton.
Critics also objected to the possibility that the achievement board could hire charter school operators to run schools.
"You're just going to give away your local schools to people you have not seen or heard from, yet and they're going to have different goals than the local community," Blackmon said.
The bill was prompted by the need to modify a different state law that requires the state Department of Education to take over any school that gets an "F'' rating three years in a row. The department determined that legally, it could not take single schools from districts, only taking over whole districts. State officials said they didn't have the capacity to take over what could be a large number of the state's 151 districts.
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