It is probably one of the most contentious issues that the Mississippi legislature has dealt with in decades.
Right now, the Senate and the House of Representatives are debating as to whether the state should expand “school choice” for parents and allow more charter schools to exist, especially in failing districts.
The House did not leave the capitol until the early hours of Thursday morning, but the divided body finally put the current bill to a vote, passing it 64-55.
It was far from the bill that the Senate passed in committee last week, but the vote has been lauded by many charter school proponents as “historic.”
Even with the changes that were made at the House level, many opposed to charter school expansion remain distraught at the bill’s passing.
Clay County’s two votes in the House on Thursday are quite representative of the divisiveness of the issue.
District 37 Representative Gary Chism, a Republican, voted in favor of the bill, while District 38’s Democratic Representative Tyrone Ellis voted no.
Chism could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, but the Daily Times Leader spoke with Ellis about his reasons for voting against the bill.
“I think that we are putting the cart before the horse,” Ellis, who serves portions of Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha Counties said. “The State Department of Education is under the jurisdication of the state legislature, and they are constitutionally tasked with educating our children. When we start out-sourcing the education of our children to entities in a wholesale manner, removing the school districts from the fundamental foundation of the system and putting it in the hands of private or non-profit schools, it makes a big difference.”
Ellis says that it could take half a day to express his entire opposition to the bill, but his main point is that the legislature should take a more comprehensive approach at identifying problems in the current system rather than handing it over to charter schools first.
“There needs to be an evaluation to find out what is truly wrong with the system,” Ellis said. “Before I out-source it to someone else, I want to find out what the problems are and target those problems.”
Ellis did not rule out support of charter schools in the future, depending on whether the evaluation he spoke of has been done, but he did question the effectiveness of charter schools as a whole.
“Charter schools are hit and miss,” he said. “It’s the shotgun approach. They say this school is working in Arkansas or Chicago, so it’s supposed to work in Mississippi?”
At the end of the day, Ellis says that he does not believe a bill will be passed.
“I don’t think we’ll have a bill,” Ellis said. “The Senate and the House are too far apart. I think that some of the leadership in the Senate is going to be too stubborn to make changes, and that will end up hurting them.”