On the eve of the 2013 legislative session, the forces are lining up and I think we are about to have a pretty good idea about what’s going to happen in the Mississippi Legislature.

Tate Reeves spoke today at the Stennis Press luncheon. Reporters covering the Capitol were there (both of them) along with 80 or so from the government and business sectors. Reeves underlined one thing at the event. Namely, he now supported charter schools wherever there was public sentiment for them. In other words, charter schools should be able to locate wherever they are wanted by the people and that legislation shouldn’t arbitrarily restrict where that should be.

Thirty minutes after Reeves finished up, a group of business leaders, headed by local Jackson entrepreneur Joel Bomgar, had a Capitol press ceremony where they unveiled the largest statewide survey on the sentiment of charter schools done to date. Better Education for Mississippi (Be4Miss for short), has an impressive group of business leaders statewide backing the effort.

The survey, done by Target Point, surveyed over 2,000 households statewide. Here’s some of what they found.

When asked “Charter Schools are public schools that can be created to meet educational needs in unique ways. Charter schools cannot charge tuition and the public funding follows the child to the school. Charter schools would be required to take the same assessment tests and meet accountability standards of traditional public schools. Knowing this information, do you support the creation of charter schools in Mississippi?”

Strongly support – 40%
Somewhat support – 30%
Somewhat oppose – 9%
Strongly oppose – 16%
Don’t know – 6%

Those are big numbers. The breakdowns were even more encouraging. 84% of 18-24 year olds support charter schools. 64% of those 65+ support them. 68% of African Americans surveyed support charters against 27% opposed. Politically, Republicans (74%), Democrats (63%) and Independents (71%) all supporting charter schools.

In their letter summarizing the findings (below), interestingly, they picked up on the same theme as Reeves did today – “We believe this legislation should enable the creation of charter schools any place where Mississippi families demand them.” I think you’ll be hearing that again and again in the coming days.

So, it’s pretty safe to say that the political sentiment is there statewide to make this happen. I think the Parents for Public Schools crowd will be scrambling to craft polling of their own in the next week or so trying to show that the deck is not as stacked against them publicly as it is.

As I wrote back in November, Republicans will have the votes to do what they want to. However, I will offer the same advice to Be4Miss business leaders as I did to legislative leaders – Reach out into the black community. If 68% of African Americans support charter schools (and I believe they do), get black business and community leaders on board publicly. Make them both a visible and real part of this debate and use this moment to help break down the political barriers that tend to exist in Mississippi along largely racial lines.

One of my favorite parables is the story of two bulls, and nowhere is it more appropriate than politics. There are two bulls on the top of a hill overlooking a valley of cows. The younger bull says, “Let’s run down and make with one of them cows”. The older bull looks at him and says, “Let’s walk down and make with them all.”

If Bryant, Reeves and Gunn and those that support them will play a little longball, they can have a result that goes far past a short term political win on charter schools.

BE4Miss Letter to Senators/Representatives on Charter Schools