(The Center Square) – The Mississippi House passed two school choice bills in its session on Wednesday that keep them alive for further work.
The original versions of the bills included one that would’ve allowed foster children to participate in the state’s education savings account program and another that would’ve allowed the state’s community colleges and universities to become charter school authorizers in addition to the state Charter Authorizer Board.
House Bill 1000 was authored by state Rep. Bill Kinkade, R-Byhalia. The committee substitute replaced the original version and it would allow adoptive parents and legal guardians of foster children to enroll them in any public school district statewide.
“What we’re doing here is giving foster children school choice to allow them to go to the district that is most convenient or what is considered best for them,” said House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach.
The bill passed unanimously.
The Mississippi ESA program allows participating parents of children with special needs to receive $6,500 to use on tuition, books and other approved learning aids.
HB 1150 was authored by state Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie. The original version would have allowed more entities to authorize public charter schools, which are allowed in only D- and F-rated school districts under Mississippi law unless approved by the local school district board.
The rewritten version of the bill is now a placeholder with the relevant code sections, which keeps the idea alive and allows the House to keep working on the bill.
The deadline for passage of bills out of the originating chamber is Thursday.
The independent Charter Authorizer Board has been under fire by school choice groups and charter school operators as being too restrictive on the number of charters it approves.
There are only nine public charter schools in Mississippi, most in the Jackson area.
Charters can be approved exclusively by the authorizer board in only failing school districts according to the Mississippi Department of Education’s annual accountability grades. Any other charter requires the approval of the local school board in addition to that of the authorizer board.
For example, Georgia allows local school boards, the state education department and an independent board to scrutinize and approve charter schools. Arizona and Indiana are examples of two states that allow institutions of higher education to act as charter authorizers.