House-Senate talks warm up on charter school bills

March 1, 2013 10:26:35 AM

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JACKSON -- Mississippi lawmakers are trying to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of bills expanding charter schools in the state. 

 

The Senate Education Committee took up the proposal Thursday that the House passed Jan. 24, amending it to mirror the Senate-passed plan. Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said afterward that House and Senate leaders are zeroing in on a few items. 

 

"There are a few differences between the Senate and House bills on which I believe we can find agreement," Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said in a statement. 

 

Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, said issues include whether school boards in districts with "C'' ratings would be able to veto charter schools and whether students would be able to cross district lines to attend charter schools elsewhere. The House bill omits both proposals, while the Senate includes them. 

 

Also at issue is whether for-profit companies would be allowed to run charter schools. The House would ban nonprofit charter schools from contracting with for-profit management companies. The Senate, while it requires nonprofit schools, would allow such contracting. Busby also said the ability of charter schools to join the Public Employees Retirement System is at issue. The Senate bill would give the option to charter schools, while the House bill would ban them. 

 

Busby said that it might be possible to get full House approval for a bill that lets students cross district lines and that allows charter schools to join PERS 

 

"Those are the two that I think we can live with," he said. 

 

But he said Reeves continued insistence on denying a veto to "C''-rated districts could sink House support for charter schools. The House bill passed Jan. 24 by a vote of 64-55, after the longest legislative debate in the last two years. 

 

"We're hopeful we'll get some level of Senate concurrence on our bill," said Busby, who has managed the House proposal. 

 

Tollison, though, again noted that many students in "C'' districts attend individual schools rated "D'' and "F." 

 

"You want to make sure (charter schools) are accessible to students in 'D' and 'F' schools," he said. 

 

House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said that the "kings" -- Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn -- are handling much of the negotiation. 

 

"Both of them have been directly involved with it all the way through," Moore said of the Republican leaders of the Senate and House.