By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
State Sen. Tony Smith, R-Picayune, said on Friday that he favors charter schools “on principle,” but added, “I want to read the new bill before I make a final pronouncement or decision on it.”
Said Smith, “I am for parents having a choice. As to charter schools, I am in favor of the concept, but until I see the bill, I don’t want to say whether I am for it or against it (that particular bill). On the surface and principle of it, I am for it because it would give parents more choice in deciding what’s best for their kids.”
Last year Smith voted in favor of a charter school bill that passed the Senate but died in a House committee.
Smith is eyeing his second session as the State Legislature convenes on Tuesday for the 2013 session. He was elected in November 2011 and sworn in during January 2012.
He said considering charter school legislation probably will be on top of the legislative agenda as the new session gets underway.
Second, he said, will be “dealing with the Obama Affordable Health Care Act, and its implementation and impact on the state budget, and the expansion of Medicaid it entails.
“So, that looks like the two big ones,” he added.
Smith, a former member of the Picayune school board and a Picayune businessman who owns Stonewall’s and the franchise, represents Senate District 47, which consists of portions of Pearl River, Stone, Harrison and Jackson counties.
A charter school bill died in the state House Education Committee last year, but the bill’s proponents have argued for and pushed it between sessions and say they are expecting the bill to pass during the upcoming session. It has opponents who will try to block it. Last year five GOP House members blocked it when they changed their votes. It died in committee by one vote.
Both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the State Senate, say they favor some form of the bill and will work for its passage.
“I favor the charter schools movement mainly because establishment of charter schools gives a parent more choices in the education of their child. It is not a cure-all, but I have recently seen evidence that when run and set up properly, it does improve performance,” said Smith, who recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend an “excellence in education” seminar, chaired by former Gov. Jeb Bush and current and other former governors.
He said he was familiar with the Harmony Charter schools in a poor section of Austin, Texas, that is successful and scores 10 percent higher on tests than surrounding schools in more upper class districts. “Texas has a strong charter school movement,” he said.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about charter schools,” said Smith. “I was recently told by a teacher that she had heard that teachers in public schools would lose their jobs if charter schools were created. That is not true.”
Some opponents have said that establishing charter schools would siphon off funds from public schools and would damage public school districts.
Proponents say charter schools, which have less bureaucracy than public schools, would bring more competition to the school systems in Mississippi.
Said Smith, “One of the basic selling points for me, too, is that with that charter, the school administrators are basically telling the state that they are going to meet their goals and objectives, and if they fail, they lose their charter.”
Concerning implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act in Mississippi, what is termed by some Obamacare, Smith said, “What concerns Mississippi is that it looks like if we do nothing, just implementing the measures of the legislation regarding the state, is going to cost us $452 million, just the basics, and that doesn’t include an expansion of Medicaid.”
He added, “If we do a full expansion, which is what the feds want us to do, it will cost Mississippi over $1 billion to implement the program and the full expansion. I just don’t see how the state can come up with that kind of money and enough revenue.”
He continued: “The feds are saying all of this federal money going toward the program is free. Well, there is nothing free from the federal government. They disguise it, send you the money, and the next thing you know you are having to pay for it, or a large portion of it. I am very concerned about the impact of this federal program on the state’s budget.”