The last legislative session at the state capitol was marked by the failure to get a charter schools bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
Since that time, the largely Republican-backed education agenda has been at the forefront of just about every major speech delivered by Gov. Phil Bryant. The party and the supporters of charter schools made it their mission to galvanize support and get the bill, not only to the floor for a vote this session, but to also get it passed.
On Thursday morning, the House got one step closer to that being a reality when it passed its own version of a bill originally passed in Senate committee last week.
Public school districts statewide are following this issue very closely, and West Point School District is no exception.
WPSD Superintendent Burnell McDonald spoke to the Daily Times Leader about the bill on Thursday. McDonald had a copy of the legislation on his desk, and he spoke more favorably of the House version.
“The bill that I am looking at, from the House, is closer to being more reasonable,” McDonald said.
McDonald said that one of his biggest contentions with the Senate version that passed last week was that school districts that were graded C or below did not have veto power over the creation of a charter school within that district.
“A C grade, according to the State Department of Education is labeled successful,” McDonald said. “I think that C schools should be included in the power to veto.”
In the House version of the bill, A,B and C grade school districts would have veto power.
McDonald says that he does not agree with the fact that the state’s charter school board of trustees would be appointed predominately be the governor and Lt. Governor, with only one being nominated by the department of education.
“This means the Department of Education basically has no say-so, but these charter schools are still going to be considered public schools,” McDonald said.
McDonald pointed out also that the bill allows for during the first year of a charter school’s existence that up to 25 percent of its teachers not to be required to be certified.
Current public schools, according to McDonald are penalized by MDE if a school has over five percent of its teachers non-certified.
“They are willing to change the regulations for this school that has never existed, but they’ve never been willing to change the regulations for us,” McDonald said.
McDonald did laud one part of the bill, and that was the part that said charter school teachers would be prohibited from participating in the state retirement system (PERS).
“That might keep us from losing good teachers to a charter school, because they have that retirement here, and they are already vested in that retirement,” McDonald said.
The superintendent also agrees that students should not be allowed to cross district lines to attend an out-of-county school.
“I believe that students and the money should stay in their home district,” McDonald said. “That tax money should not be going to a neighboring county.”
There is still a lot that has to be accomplished for either of the bills to become law. Negotiations will be underway in the Senate and House in an attempt to bring about a compromise.