- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Some lawmakers want to set up a separate statewide school district to take over individual failing schools.

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 502, which would set up an “Achievement School District” that would take over schools that score an “F” on the state’s rating system two years in a row. The separate board would consist of three appointees by the governor, three by the lieutenant governor, and one by the state superintendent.

The structure would mirror districts set up in Louisiana and Tennessee to try to improve schools, although there the districts don’t have school boards.

Under the bill as currently written, the “achievement district” could keep schools for as long as it deemed necessary, although Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, said decisions on returning schools would be made jointly by the local district, the achievement district and the state superintendent.

Local districts would have to hand over buildings and send the tax money for each student to the district.

The bill was prompted by the need to modify a different state law that requires the state Department of Education to take over any school that gets an “F” rating three years in a row. The department determined that legally, it could only take over an entire district under the current conservatorship process, and could not take single schools from districts.

Officials asked lawmakers to fix the law to allow the department to take over single districts, and originally it was set up so that the ‘achievement district’ would be a unit of the Department of Education, led by a deputy state superintendent. That’s similar to the structures in Tennessee and Louisiana, and also to a structure found in a Senate bill that’s been introduced.

But in the House, members rewrote the bill to take control away from the Department of Education and give it to a board that would have included four appointees from the governor and three from the lieutenant governor. When the department balked at that, lawmakers agreed to give one of the governor’s appointments to the superintendent.

Busby said after an earlier subcommittee meeting that lawmakers took away control from the department because it’s not “innovative” enough.

The Senate bill allows the achievement school district to hire others to run schools it takes over, opening the door for the district to hire charter operators, as has been done in Tennessee and Louisiana. Officials have discussed hiring contractors to run entire districts taken over under the conservatorship process. The House bill, though, doesn’t appear to allow achievement schools to be chartered.

The Senate bill requires a five-year minimum stay in the achievement school district, with a return plan after the school’s academic performance improves.

The House bill was also amended to require a takeover of any school that scores an “F” for two years in a row, instead of three. In fall 2013, there were 51 individual schools that were rated “F” for two years in a row. Of those, 10 were in districts the state currently runs through the conservatorship process and two more - Coahoma County Agricultural High School and Hinds County Agricultural High School - are required by law to close at the end of this school year.

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Online: House Bill 502: https://bit.ly/1df1iuh

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Follow Jeff Amy at https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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