Education focus shifts to implementation

April 10, 2013 8:39:07 AM

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JACKSON -- If 2013 was the education session for Mississippi's Legislature, it will be followed by the implementation season. 

 

State leaders will have to create structures to authorize charter schools and fund prekindergarten programs. Literacy coaches will have to be hired to implement a new focus on reading grades K-3, along with training for thousands of teachers. 

 

Along the way, more money will be required to bring some of the visions to fruition. And traditional demands for higher teacher pay and more state aid to local schools could rebound, especially as the 2015 state elections near. 

 

At the end of the 2012 legislative session proponents vowed they would try again to push a bill expanding the opportunities for charter schools in Mississippi. In the summer of 2012, Gov. Phil Bryant, began setting the table for a broader education agenda. The Republican governor didn't get everything he wanted -- for example lawmakers ditched his call to allow students to enroll in any public school anywhere in the state -- but he was successful in several efforts. 

 

Charter schools won the most attention, as many House lawmakers continued to fight broadened authority. In the end, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves decided to accept the bill the House had passed, though it was more limited than the Republican preferred. 

 

"If the charter school bill compromise had been made at the beginning of the 2012 session, I don't think you'd have seen the acrimony we had along the way," said Rep. Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven, who fought charter school proposals. 

 

Legislative success, though, may not signal acceptance from everyone. Though a handful of black Democrats ended up voting for charter school bills, most remained stout opponents. They represent some of the struggling school districts Republicans say they most want to help. 

 

"It makes no sense to me, the areas that need the most help are the ones that vote against getting the help they need," said Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune. 

 

But opponents continue to say that charter schools -- public schools run by private groups -- aren't truly aimed at helping black children. 

 

"I see charter schools as being a back door to individuals who have their children in private school to have the state to be able to pay for it," said Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee. 

 

Proponents predict that when charter schools begin to open their doors, some resistance will soften. "People will see what charter schools really are, instead of the caricature painted by opponents," said Forrest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. 

 

Next up will be appointing a seven-member authorizing board to solicit and approve charter school applications.