House Committee Passes Charter Schools Bill

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The debate over charter schools was back in the spotlight at the Mississippi capitol Wednesday.

The House Education Committee passed the measure 14-12.

But before a vote was taken, committee member and co-author of the bill, Rep. Chuck Espy, led the charge for its passage.

"I have been a lawmaker for 12 years and I have failed you in public education. And I'm telling you today, the buck stops here and we will pass charter schools."

Espy joined advocates with the Black Alliance for Educational Options to send that message to fellow lawmakers.

Espy says he's not against traditional public schools and only wants to give parents an option for better and more competitive education.

"In public education, we have forgotten over the years," he said. "We have become accustomed to letting things just slide by. We have become accustomed to sitting here for over 30 years in Mississippi with terrible education for our children."

The bill would allow charters to open anywhere in the state, subject to the approval of an authorizing board.

The Mississippi Senate already passed its version of a charter schools bill. While most lawmakers agree there will be some type of charter legislation passed, there's a possibility it'll come from a conference committee to work out the details between the two versions.

If those details aren't hammered out, both versions could fail and the state would be left right where it is.

But Espy, as well as Sen. Kenneth Jones are optimistic.

"Once we get everything worked out, we're going to have a very good charter school bill for Mississippi and we're going to do what's in the best interest of the children and we're going to work along with public schools," Jones said.

While opponents argue a charter system will only hurt traditional public schools, especially financially, these two lawmakers disagree.

"The same legislators that support charter schools in Mississippi are also going to try to fully fund the public education system," said Jones.

"The money simply follows the child," said Espy. "So if you just allocated or fragment those dollars per pupil you cannot hurt public education."

The House bill will now go to the full House for debate. If both the House and Senate bills fail, lawmakers say they will put them back on the table next session.