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Behind the Shroud of the House Education Committee
Members working on more education reforms

by Frank Corder
Clarion Ledger reporter Geoff Pender on Wednesday tweeted, "House education cmte agenda shrouded in secrecy." The tweet piqued my curiosity in that if Pender hasn't heard any rumblings of what's likely to be passed out of this newsworthy committee then most others haven't either.

So Y'all Politics did some digging.

Sources tell YP that a number of education reforms could find their way out to the House floor. These come as Republicans continue their momentum from the 2013 session of passing what's been described as the most significant educational legislation in Mississippi's history.

Here's a quick peak behind the shroud of a few measures that have a better than average chance of passing out of the House Education Committee as it stands today:

Mississippi Achievement School District (HB 502):

Chairman John Moore's bill would establish the Mississippi Achievement School District within the State Department of Education to oversee the administration of failing schools with a "F" rating for at least three consecutive years. The bill states that the State Superintendent of Education would have the authority to directly operate or contract with one or more individuals, governmental entities or nonprofit entities (such as charter school operators) to manage the day-to-day operations of any or all schools placed in the achievement school district department.

Any school or grade configuration within a school could be assigned to the achievement school district whenever a school is determined to be in failing status as identified by a "F" designation on the accountability rating.

On the surface this appears to give the Department of Education a reasonable manner in which to oversee underperforming schools while increasing accountability. However, some may view this as expanding the department, but keep reading to perhaps see how Moore plans to offset that critique.

Districts of Innovation (HB 112):

State Rep. Jerry Turner along with cosponsors Rep. Bill Kinkade and Rep. Tracy Arnold are seeking to authorize the State Board of Education to approve the creation of Districts of Innovation in local school districts. According to the bill, Districts of Innovation would be provided flexibility from selected board regulations, Title 37, Mississippi Code of 1972, and local school board policies for school administrators, teachers and staff to meet the diverse needs of students. The State Board of Education would be authorized to approve such districts that submit a plan for a period of five years.

The intent is to improve the educational performance of students within the district by way of new or creative alternatives to existing instructional and administrative practices.

What a concept... More local control; giving local school districts more of a say over what curriculum to teach in an effort to better connect with their students and increase overall achievement. After all, every child learns differently. Why not give districts the latitude to explore how to reach their own students.

Removing the Mississippi Department of Education from the Personnel Board for 2 years (HB 454):

Chairman Moore has dropped a bill aimed at exempting the Department of Education from State Personnel Board protections for two years, reclassifying the current employees of the department as nonstate service during that period.

The bill reads, "Whenever an employee of the department is dismissed or involuntarily terminated under the authority of this section during that period of time, the employee's position and PIN number shall be eliminated. Upon the elimination of such PIN numbers, the department shall not be allowed to add any additional positions and PIN numbers for four (4) years following the date the PIN numbers were eliminated."

Essentially the bill seeks to reduce nonessential employees and reduce the Department of Education's overhead during the next two fiscal years. This could account for the achievement school districts described above.

I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Democrats on this one.

Charter schools: open enrollment and more

There is also much discussion on open enrollment for charter schools as House leaders seek to expand their signature legislation that opened the door to the option last session. It shouldn't surprise you if one such bill slips out of the House Education Committee.

Other bills dealing with the operation and funding of charter schools may be on tap as well.

*****

Education reforms have been a priority for Republicans and for good reason; little was done of any substantial good before 2011 under the Democrats.

Posted January 29, 2014 - 10:21 pm

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