- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A House Republican sponsoring a bill to expand access to Mississippi charter schools said Wednesday that a Hinds County Democrat’s amendment to allow the schools statewide was improper and will be stripped from the measure.

Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, told The Associated Press that the amendment by Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Raymond, isn’t allowed under House rules because House Bill 1044 lacks the appropriate sections of state law.

Dortch had apparently succeeded in his amendment Wednesday in a meeting of the House Education Committee, saying he wanted higher-achieving school districts to share the burden of charter schools.

But Busby later said the House Revenue and Expenditure General Bills Committee, which must also agree to the bill before it goes to the full House, will strip the language and return it to the Education Committee for more consideration.

That would restore the original version of the bill, which would for the first time allow students anywhere in Mississippi to attend any charter schools. However, that version would keep the veto of school boards in districts with academic rates of A to C over charter schools in their districts.

The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 2161 earlier Wednesday, allowing students to cross district lines and schools to locate in C-rated districts without local approval, in addition to the current freedom to locate in districts rated D and F.

Both bills passed on split voice votes.

The location restriction was a key compromise that allowed House leaders to win enough votes to pass the original charter school law in 2013, and Democrats on Wednesday were generally resisting any expansion of charter school attendance. Members of the Legislature’s minority party generally oppose charter schools, which are public schools operated by private, nonprofit organizations. Democrats say charter schools drain local taxes and top students from traditional schools, leaving schools that serve most students worse off.

Dortch said he wanted to kill the bill but said he offered the amendment to ensure a school couldn’t open in Jackson only to poach students from the city’s suburbs.

“If they want Madison County students, they can open in Madison County,” Dortch said after the meeting. “If it passes, I would like those schools be open statewide, not just in Jackson.”

Busby said he didn’t think a majority of House members would allow charter schools statewide without local input. Though he ultimately wants charter schools statewide, he said he wants to move in a measured fashion.

“To blow it wide open like that before the charter schools have proven themselves undermines that argument,” Busby said.

So far, Mississippi has only two charter schools, both in Jackson. Both schools first opened in August, and each has about 120 students, with plans to grow in later years to serve grades 5 through 8. Two more schools have been approved to open in Jackson.

Busby said he expected few students would exit high-rated districts to attend charter schools but said he was happy to give parents the option.

“If we thought the best of the best got a better education in the charter schools, then that’s what we’re doing,” Busby said.

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Online: House Bill 1044: http://bit.ly/1VoyLu1

Senate Bill 2161: http://bit.ly/1VoyPKe

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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