March 12, 2013 9:20:32 AM
JACKSON -- House members want Mississippians to keep their elected school superintendents.
And they don't think would-be teachers should need to score 21 on the ACT.
Senate Bill 2199, which was supposed to lead to more appointed superintendents around the state, lost on a 65-52 vote.
Members then voted 60-59 to amend Senate Bill 2658 to cut a requirement that students score at least 21 on the ACT college test to enter teacher preparation programs. The House left intact a requirement that a student earn a 3.0 GPA in high school.
Taken together, the votes could signal a limit on House members' willingness to agree to all the education proposals being pushed by Republican leaders this year.
The second bill returns to the Senate for more work, so changes could be reversed in House-Senate conference.
Rep. Forrest Hamilton, R-Olive Branch, continued his fiery opposition to appointed superintendents. He represents DeSoto County, which is both Mississippi's largest school district and one led by an elected superintendent.
"Quit trying to take the right of the people away in this bill," Hamilton said, waving a flag and a Bible as he strode to the podium. "This is just a little bit of the noose around your neck. If they take my right away today, they're going to take something away from you tomorrow."
Rep. John Mayo, R-Oxford, unsuccessfully argued that many counties were too small to have a sizeable pool of qualified residents from which to elect a superintendent. He also claimed districts with elected superintendents were more likely to be poorly rated, a claim that Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenwood, disputed.
The bill failed even though Rep. Joe Warren, D-Mount Olive, amended it to force a vote on continuing the practice in the 62 districts that elect leaders. The other 89 districts appoint superintendents.
After that revolt against Republican leadership, a recalcitrant majority also moved to strip out a requirement from another bill that would have required prospective teachers to score 21 on the ACT college test.
Gov. Phil Bryant wants that test-score requirement, plus a 3.0 GPA in earlier college courses, saying better-qualified students will be better teachers. His administration cites an analysis by Mississippi State University that shows students statewide in grades 3-8 have better state test scores when taught by teachers who scored higher on the ACT.
"People say there are no numbers but here are the numbers," said Mayo, who was managing the bill on the floor.
But opponents focused on another set of numbers. College Board figures show that 49 percent of students admitted in the 2011-2012 school year wouldn't have qualified under the proposed standards, and universities sought changes to the bill. In 2011, the average ACT score for Mississippi was 18.7 and 21.1 nationally.
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, introduced a mocking amendment requiring gubernatorial candidates to score 25 on the ACT. He withdrew the measure after Republicans said it wasn't allowed under House rules. Then Johnson introduced his real aim, to strip the ACT requirement out of the bill, saying the test isn't a good predictor of teaching success.
"They are culturally biased, they are racially biased, they are demographically biased," Johnson said of standardized tests. "We should not rob ourselves of the opportunity to have the best people as teachers."
"If you can't make a 21, do you really want that person to teach your child?" asked Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, noting a student can take the ACT multiple times.
"Yes I do," answered Johnson, "because I've known teachers who didn't make a 21 who were the best teachers I ever had."