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Education Bills in the Mississippi Legislature: Many filed, few will see the light of day
Here's a look at some of the more interesting ones

by Frank Corder
One thing is for sure... Education bills are never in short supply at the Capitol.

The Mississippi Legislature could give citizens the right to directly elect all local school board members and end the practice of taxation with indirect representation by way of appointments this session.

State Senators Tony Smith and Michael Watson are actively pushing such legislation, but admittedly it faces a long road unfortunately.

Among the reasons advocates give for electing all school board members is the lack of accountability regarding the tax levy requested by schools. When school board appointees request the tax levy they believe is needed to operate the district it is submitted to the municipal governing board but that city council has little to no real legal authority to veto a millage request.

State Rep. John Moore is addressing just that in HB 78. The bill would give the levying authority (the municipal governing board) the right to veto a school board's request for a tax increase. This would provide a new level of accountability between the school board and the appointing city council.

If we can't get all school board members elected (and it's beyond me why we can't), adding accountability measures is another way to eat the elephant until the silent support gains some courage to be more vocal.

Another bill by Moore would require county school board candidates to declare their political party affiliation, something conservatives will welcome in Mississippi and liberals will demonize.

Can't you hear it now? "Why does it matter what party they affiliate with as long as they are focused on children and education?"

Truth is, party affiliation speaks volumes as to how a candidate will execute the office if elected, a stereotype Democrats would like to avoid in Mississippi. But voters deserve to know which candidates more closely align with their own convictions and like it or not party affiliation helps clarify those uncertainties.

Smith and Watson, along with Sen. Gray Tollison, are also calling for appointing all school superintendents, a measure Speaker Philip Gunn recently endorsed at the Stennis forum.

The caveat offered by Tollison is that if local communities still want their superintendents elected, they can vote to keep it that way. Such an option may not be advantageous to the ultimate reasoning behind the move but it does provide convenient cover for some lawmakers who may be on the fence.

In addition, Moore and Watson have both filed bills to expand the back to school sales tax break weekend in July by proposing to include school supplies, a no brainer really. Why it was only school clothes never made sense if you are a parent of a student in Mississippi. Moore's bill is HB 80 and Watson's is SB 2046.

And four state senators have filed to repeal the 2012 School Start Date Act: J.P. Wilemon, Videt Carmichael, Billy Hudson and Derrick Simmons.

The School Start Date Act of 2012 sets all public schools to begin no earlier than the third Monday in August, an effort backed by business groups such as the Gulf Coast Business Council, in an effort to extend summer spending by consumers as well as cut school operational costs in Mississippi's hot weather.

School districts took issue with the measure saying the matter should be locally controlled. Some school leaders believe the late start will force students to go longer into May, even perhaps into June. Rep. Moore, a co-author of the 2012 law, may be seeking to address this as well by proposing shortening the school year by five days, a bill that has already drawn a number of critics.

As always, education bills will litter the hopper at the Capitol. Y'all Politics will keep you abreast of the more politically interesting measures as the session progresses.

Posted January 14, 2014 - 3:00 pm

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