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JACKSON, Miss.—Mississippi is one step closer to allowing charter schools to open in the state after the Senate Education Committee approved a charter school bill on Tuesday.

Mississippi charter schools
Students attend a summer session at Lyon Elementary School near the city of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta. School districts throughout the state could see increased competition from charter schools if a controversial bill passes the Mississippi legislature this session. (Photo by Jackie Mader)

The bill would allow the publicly funded, privately run schools to open in districts that have been rated poorly by the state, and would give highly rated districts the power to approve charter school applications in their areas.

Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, told committee members that the bill is essentially the framework from last year’s contentious charter school fight. That proposal failed by one vote after five Republicans in the House Education Committee broke rank and voted against the bill.

This year’s proposal also renewed debate over a provision that would allow 25 percent of teachers in charter schools to be exempt from Mississippi teacher certification standards. These teachers must hold a bachelors degree, take a subject matter competency test, and complete an alternative certification program within three years.

That provision brought opposition from State Senator David Jordan, a retired teacher from Greenwood, a town in the Mississippi Delta. “This situation would be worse than the public schools that we’re trying to change,” Jordan told the committee. “If a person has a bachelors degree…in business administration, and you need him to teach chemistry, do you think he’d be prepared to do so?”

The battle over charter schools in Mississippi is nothing new for lawmakers. There have been five attempts in the past five years to introduce charter school legislation. Supporters say the schools could improve education in a state with the nation’s highest child poverty rate, and some of the lowest test scores. But opponents of the schools say that they will only reach a small number of students, and could further segregate state schools.

Some opponents are also skeptical of for-profit charter schools and virtual charter schools. The charter school bill included a provision that would have allowed up to three online charter schools to operate in the state, but it was stricken after Senator David Blount, D-Jackson, proposed an amendment to remove virtual schools from the bill. “Virtual charter schools are not successful at educating children as efficiently as other schools,” said Blount, to The Hechinger Report. “Children need supervision, particularly underserved students need supervision from teachers.”

The bill will now move before the full Senate, where the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports it could be considered as early as Wednesday.

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