March 27, 2010 9:05:00 PM
JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers on Saturday finished a big chunk of their work for the three-month session by passing final versions of bills that would make general changes to state laws.
They''re taking a break for more than three weeks and will return to the Capitol on April 20 to wrap up a state spending plan for the year that begins July 1. Leaders say they hope that will take only a few days.
Negotiators have agreed to spend about $5.5 billion, but they haven''t divided the money among state programs. They''re hoping to get an additional $187 million in federal money that could also be included in the budget.
When lawmakers return, they''ll also finish debate about authorizing the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to remain in existence beyond July 1. State agencies routinely come up for reauthorization every few years.
This year, an employment agency bill stalled when some Democratic lawmakers wanted to force Republican Gov. Haley Barbour to accept millions of federal stimulus dollars for the jobless. Barbour has balked at changing Mississippi''s regulations to allow unemployment benefits to go to people seeking part-time work.
Among the bills that passed both chambers Saturday was one that would allow low-performing schools to be restructured. Supporters said the change could improve students'' academic achievement, while opponents said it could hurt other schools by syphoning too much money.
The struggling schools could become either charter schools or "new start" schools, both of which are designed to revamp management and increase parental involvement.
"We''re going to get a lot of kids educated," said Rep. Chuck Espy, D-Clarksdale, a charter schools advocate. "We''re going to do it, and it''s going to work."
The House passed the bill 84-29 with little discussion. The Senate passed it 27-11 after an hourlong debate.
Espy is one of the few members of the Legislative Black Caucus who supports charter schools. Many black lawmakers say they''re skeptical of charters in a state where many white families formed private academies after court-ordered integration of the public schools. Carmichael emphasized that the charter schools would be public.
Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said he opposes charter schools, which could operate free of some regulations, including hours and days of operation. Some charter schools in other states operate six days a week.
Jordan asked Carmichael: "Haven''t public schools always worked for our people?"
"No, sir," Carmichael replied. "If they had always worked, we wouldn''t be in this situation."
Mississippi has 951 elementary and secondary schools, and officials say 212 of those are classified as failing or at risk of failing.
Schools classified as failing three years in a row could become "new start" schools. All the school''s employees would lose their jobs, and a deputy state superintendent of education would choose a new principal. The new principal would hire teachers. Former employees could apply if they wish, but they wouldn''t be guaranteed a position.
The bill would not limit the number of "new start" schools, but some lawmakers said finances could.
Charter schools would be limited to three in each of the four congressional districts. Existing schools classified as low performing, at risk of failing or failing for three consecutive years could apply to convert to charter status.
At least half the families with children in the school would have to agree to become a charter, and a management plan would have to be approved by the state Board of Education. A management company could run the school, if approved, but religious groups could not be in charge.
Rep. Willie Perkins, D-Greenwood, initially held the school bill for the possibility of more debate, a procedural move that would''ve required the House to return to the Capitol on Sunday. Hours after holding the bill, Perkins changed his mind and released it. His announcement was met by a smattering of applause. The bill goes to Barbour.
"In principle, the governor is in favor of charter schools, but he''ll have to look at the particulars of the bill," Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said.
walter commented at 3/29/2010 12:47:00 PM:
The concerns of the majority of the members of MBC are well-founded, indeed. Tigers do not naturally shed stripes, nor leopards their spots. Granted, the vanguard of the segregationists' era and the actual physical and psychological lynching of innocent and isolated Mississippians of color, are human-beings and presumed imbued with intellect and conscience, which prove that they're subject to change. However, in dealing with our young, many of whom who have not been fully taught or educated about Mississippi's past, the MBC are justified in being cautious and taking every possibl measure to ensure that such young, vulnerable, precious and far too long-deprived impressionable Mississippians of color are not delivered to wolves or foxes in sheepskin. To do anything less would be unwise. In fact, to rush into it as though Mississippi voted 90% for the Nation's first First family of Color would be downright insane!!!
Strict verification of those hiring the teachers as well as those who are eventually hired is a prerequisite to charter schools, since such schools, by law, will be able to operate with much fewer safeguard or oversight from the legislature, where the vast number of elected-persons of color serve and can, at least obtain chairmanships to oversee developments in education. Charter School will erode their oversight ability and authority to direct change.
Mississippi, as is the true of other states, si suffering a tremendous budget shortfall. Thus, it goes without saying it: something must be done. That something that is done MUST be a complete and absolute rejection of the racial attitudes and practices that historically has marked our beloved state's past. That something MUST embrace the new day in which all Mississippians recognize and acknowledge that we're closer in blood and mores than we're prone to admit. We can rise! But only if we do so together.
A first class education is the most pressing and expedicant way to enable the state to rise. An uneducated (or Trained) African American child, just like an uneducated or (Trained) white child is a drag upon us all. They both must be prepared to navigate in a future in which there will be fewer and fewer geographic borders separating competitors for jobs/positions. They'll be required to compete on an international plane and law-makers and those still harboring racists' agendas do our kids and their own a grave dis-service if they fail to recognize what time it is and seize the moment.
Rep. Espy is right. Opponents and those merely lukewarm toward Charters are also right. Education must be revamped to serve the needs of the pupils, first and foremost. Their need is to have all of the opportunities that the state has to offer to enable them to become independent-thinkers, fully capable of making wise choices, following indepth critical-thinking about a host of issues along the way. Anything short of that and any variation of the old racist, begotted remnants of Mississippi past, and the state and our people are doomed in an increasingly more diverse and dense society. We embrace or reject change at our own peril and unless the state leaders lead, and lead with conviction, courage and integrity, they betray theirs and ours.
By all means, Barbour should look at the particulars. In a state where the African American percentage of the state's population is as large as any state in the Union and the percentage of African Americans enrolled in public schools (whites fled to academies to avoid integration) is astronomical, MBC have a sacred duty to be even more circumspect and thorough in looking at the particulars. African Americans were the victims, moreso than whites. Additionally, since Blacks have not held the reins of power, they, it goes without saying, are not so easily charged with the blame for the sad state of affairs.
IT'S A NEW DAY! LET ALL ADULT CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS, OF GOODWILL, PLEDGE TO MAKE IT BRIGHTER FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW!!! It is not mandatory that we continue to be, who and what, we once have been.
Someone please remind Barbour and other lapdog politicians that Sen Steenis and other Mississippians of his era did what they believed was best for Mississippi and Mississippians first, then they did what they believed was good for their party. They were independent as Mississippi real leaders have always been. We trailblaze and carry the water of others, only as a last resort. Reality governed, not party posturing, slogans and dogma.