2012 Session | Education Bills Recap: Mississippi Students Denied Choice Yet Again
As far as education policy goes, the low point of the 2012 session was the failure of charter school legislation in the House. In addition to charters, legislators introduced several other bills that would have expanded educational freedom in Mississippi. These include a bill to provide scholarships to low-income students to attend the school of their choice; a special needs voucher bill; and an open enrollment public school choice bill. The most important education reform that passed this session requires all schools to be rated on an A-F scale, with the goal of increasing transparency regarding school performance. This legislation was based directly on research provided by MCPP.
MCPP had an ambitious educational agenda for 2012. All of our core ideas were introduced as bills this session. These include:
Charter Schools - Charter school legislation twice passed the Senate, only to die in the House. SB 2401, which passed the Senate in February, would have allowed charter schools anywhere in Mississippi, with the caveat that school boards in "Star" and "High-Performing" districts possessed veto power over authorizing decisions by a State Charter School Board. The House education committee also passed charter school legislation (HB 888), only to see it die on a deadline, without being taken up in the House chamber. Subsequently, the Senate's initial charter school bill (SB 2401) was taken up in the House Education Committee, but it failed by one vote. The Senate's second attempt at charter legislation (an amendment to HB 1152) likewise died in the House. One sticking point was the demand that school boards in "Successful" districts be given veto power over charters.
Result: Died in Conference
A-F Grading for Schools - The debate over whether charter schools should be allowed to open in "Successful" districts shed a spotlight on the state's obscure labels for rating schools and school districts. SB 2776 changes the current rating system as follows: "Star" rating is now "A"; "High-Performing" is now "B"; "Successful" is now "C"; "Academic Watch" is now "D"; "Low-Performing," "At-Risk of Failing," and "Failing" are now "F." The school and school district ratings due in September will be the first to follow the A-F scale. The formula used to arrive at each grade, however, remains untouched. Future legislation should look at reevaluating this formula so as to insure the integrity of the A-F labels (cf. HB 1164).
Result: Signed by Governor
School Choice Scholarships - HB 1155 would have offered tax credits to corporate and individual income taxpayers to fund school choice scholarships for low-income students to attend the school of their choice. Similar programs exist in several other states, including Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma. The bill also would have created an individual income tax credit for a variety of educational expenses, including school supplies, fees, tuition for attending a private school, and uniforms.
Result: Died in Committee
Special Needs Vouchers - This bill (HB 849) would have allowed special needs students from diverse categories to obtain a voucher or scholarship to attend the school of their choice. The voucher would be capped at the current cost to educate the student in his home district. As per federal disability law, Mississippi already offers a very limited voucher program to special needs students. The program, however, severely limits parental choice because the resident district possesses exclusive authority to determine when a student's needs are being met (that is, when the student is receiving a "Free, Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) and thus when a student is eligible to transfer to a school of his choice. Otherwise, vouchers are capped at $600 - insufficient to cover the cost of private school tuition.
Result: Died in Committee
It's worth noting that the legislature did pass an extremely limited special needs scholarship bill (HB 1031) for dyslexic students only. The bill provides scholarships for dyslexic students in grades 1 through 6 to attend a public or private school that "provides a specific learning environment that provides comprehensive dyslexia therapy instruction." It seems only one school currently qualifies - the 3-D school in Petal, Mississippi.
End Social Promotion - Two bills aimed at ending social promotion were debated in the House Education Committee. The first (HB 1500), sponsored by Speaker Philip Gunn, would have required every student to read at grade level in order to be promoted to the next grade. That bill was defeated by the committee. A second bill (HB 879), sponsored by Rep. Rita Martinson, would have required all third graders to read at grade level, or repeat third grade and be enrolled in an intensive reading instruction program. Martinson's bill passed out of committee, but did not come up for a vote on the House floor.
Result: Died on House Calendar
Open Enrollment - HB 1243 would have allowed public school choice by enabling parents to enroll their children in any school in the state, with approval of the receiving district. While HB 1243 died in committee, a much more modest bill (SB 2737) was sent to the governor. SB 2737 provides that children enrolled in a school district that has lost its accreditation (a possibility for the Jackson Public School District) may apply to transfer to another school district, without obtaining the approval of their home district. Current law requires approval from both districts, with the typical result being that home districts deny the request because they want to retain per pupil funding.
Result: HB 1243 Died in Committee
Other Good Bills Passed by the Legislature:
SB 696 - This law prohibits school administrators from changing grades assigned by a student's teacher.
HB 1593 - The K-12 appropriations bill included some problematic items, such as nearly $500,000 for Common Core - the likely illegal and unconstitutional push to establish a national curriculum. That said, legislators resisted calls to increase Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) spending by $250 million. MCPP research indicates that in spite of massive spending increases over the last two decades, student achievement scores have remained flat.
HB 447 - This law requires all school boards to conduct an annual job performance review of their school superintendent. The measure is one of several aimed at providing increased accountability for school boards and superintendents. Other proposed reforms in this area included a bill (HB 693; also cf. HB 675) to move school board elections to the same time as the presidential election; a measure (HB 43) to eliminate the practice of electing superintendents (HB 43); and a proposal (HB 1017) providing for the statewide election of the state superintendent of public education. Each of these five bills died in committee.