Give legislators credit for trying

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

House Bill 943, better known as the school voucher bill, died in committee Tuesday to the cheers of education groups and several local educators.

The bill, co-authored by local Reps. Becky Currie and Vince Mangold, would have expanded the state’s education voucher program to use tax money to pay private school tuition or for home-schooling.

The bill would have provided $6,500 a year for special education students, $5,000 for students whose families make less than twice the federal poverty level and $4,000 to students from families making from 200 percent to 350 percent of the poverty level.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Opponents had several gripes with the bill but many simply didn’t like the idea of tax dollars being used to pay for private school tuition. Proponents argued that those tax dollars are simply being returned to the parents to use as they see fit.

Residents who send their children to private school or home-school still pay taxes that go to the public school system.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said there weren’t enough votes in his committee or among House Republicans.

The bill would have changed the state’s education system as we know. Another education bill that did survive could do the same.  House Bill 91 would allow students in districts with D and F academic ratings to transfer to any other district.  The receiving district would be required to take the student as long as the district has capacity to take him or her.

There are obvious concerns about transportation and how districts decide if they have capacity to accept the transferring students.

“My fear is that we don’t have capacity for this fellow, but we have capacity for this quarterback,” said Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula.

The Legislature’s attempts to improve education in Mississippi are often rejected by educators and education groups. At a meeting Monday, Currie recognized the friction.

“They’re in every meeting we’re in,”  Currie said about education groups. “I don’t want you to think we don’t see each other. I see them almost every day. They’re in those meetings, but all they do is sit down and blog. They want to tear up what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do better for kids. We’re not your enemy. Not one of us are your enemy. We are trying to do better. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But we’re trying to do better, because the road we’ve been going down doesn’t seem to be working. There’s got to be a new road.”

Give Currie and other legislators credit for trying to do something to improve education. And give them credit for meeting with constituents during the legislative process. Currie, Mangold and Sen. Sally Doty met for a round-table discussion with educators and parents Monday in Brookhaven.

It’s not easy to discuss unpopular legislation with those who voted you into office. A bit of advice for Mangold following the meeting: When you co-author a bill, at least have an opinion about it. Mangold was largely silent during Monday’s round-table discussion.