The bill allows the state to depose school board members and order new elections in districts that are taken over twice within 10 years. It originally also allowed the state to merge a twice-failed district into a neighboring district without the consent of the neighboring district. But Sen. Hob Bryan, R-Amory, successfully amended the bill to require the consent of the receiving district.
Tollison fought the amendment, saying that without the power to make good districts combine with troubled neighbors, the state would be deprived of leverage needed to force reforms. Only an involved community can permanently improve a district, he said.
“Everybody says ‘not in my backyard,’ but it is in your county,” Tollison said.
The amendment’s adoption dealt a rare defeat to Senate Republicans leaders, who have generally gotten their way so far in this session. A total of seven Republicans broke ranks: Sally Doty of Brookhaven, Angela Burks Hill of Picayune, Gary Jackson of French Camp, John Polk of Hattiesburg, Tony Smith of Picayune, Sean Tindell of Gulfport and Michael Watson of Pascagoula. By contrast, only Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, voted to allow forced mergers.
The bill goes to the House, which passed a bill Thursday with language along the lines originally sought by the state. That measure also would allow parents to transfer children from districts whose accreditation is revoked by the state. Local and state tax money would follow the student to a new district. Administrative changes being made by the Department of Education would also bar unaccredited districts from playing sports against other schools or taking part in other interscholastic competitions. Among districts at risk of losing their accreditation is the Jackson city district, the state’s second largest by enrollment.
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