HB 502 – Mississippi Achievement School District

HB 502 is proposed as an alternative to the New Start law that is set to take effect next fall. (The existing New Start law requires the immediate takeover of all schools that are rated F for the third consecutive year – and the notification of all school employees the of their possible termination the year prior – when ratings are released in September, beginning September of 2014.) The timeline required in the current statute threatens to create a mass exodus to other districts of school employees who fear that they could lose their jobs. This could be terribly disruptive to students during the subsequent school year while a search for qualified replacement faculty and staff is conducted. It will be difficult to attract highly qualified teachers into a district that has twice been rated F with the threat of termination if another F is earned hanging over their heads.
HB 502 is a more reasonable approach that addresses the problem of chronically failing schools without the unintended consequences of the New Start law. The Parents’ Campaign supports HB 502, though we recommend that it be amended slightly as it works its way through the legislative process.

HB 502 establishes the Mississippi Achievement School District (MASD), a statewide school district tasked with the absorption and academic turnaround of chronically failing schools. In its current form, HB 502 calls for the immediate absorption of all schools that are rated F for two consecutive years, with the first absorption to take place when school ratings are released in the fall of 2015. Students will continue to attend their same schools, the principals of those schools will simply report to a different administration that has expertise in school turnaround.

The MASD will be governed by a board of directors with broad geographic distribution and diversity, appointed by the governor (3), lieutenant governor (3), and state superintendent of education (1). Board members will have staggered terms, and the bill states that, in making board appointments, particular emphasis shall be given to areas of the state in which there are schools that are within the MASD. The board is tasked with hiring a superintendent of the MASD who has a proven record of success in education administration. The superintendent bears the responsibility of staffing the schools with highly qualified principals, teachers, and staff. The bill does not require the termination of employees.

Schools absorbed into the MASD will remain in the statewide district so long as the MASD board determines that it is in the best interest of the students in the constituent schools.
The MASD will operate under the same rules and regulations as other local schools district; the MASD may not levy taxes.

An initial appropriation will be required to provide start-up and operational funding with subsequent funding to flow to the district based upon average daily attendance, as is the case in other traditional public schools. State, local, and federal funding will follow the student.
The Parents’ Campaign was instrumental in conceptualizing and drafting this legislation, though its current form is not exactly as we proposed. Our preference is that schools be eligible for absorption after being rated F for three (3) consecutive years and that they be absorbed at the discretion of the MASD board, as their capacity allows, with priority given to the lowest performing schools.

Currently, there are 50 schools that, if rated F in the coming year will meet the “3 consecutive years” standard.  That number grows to 92 schools if the standard remains 2 consecutive years with an F rating. We do not believe that the MASD, or any other entity, will have the capacity to properly oversee that many failing schools. 

The Parents’ Campaign supports this bill, and we hope that, as the bill moves through the legislative process, it will be amended as recommended above.

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