Analysis / Education Issues May Dominate Legislative Session

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JACKSON Want to know who'll control the narrative of the 2013 Mississippi legislative session?

Look first to the lawmakers who will handle education proposals, and to the private groups lobbying for or against charter schools.

Also look to those who'll write the budget, handle a bond package and tackle the complex questions tied to health care policy.

It's been just over 30 years since Democratic Gov. William Winter pushed reluctant lawmakers to enact the Education Reform Act of 1982, a broad package of changes that included the start of compulsory attendance, the addition of teachers' aides and the creation of kindergarten in public schools. And, it's been nearly 16 years since lawmakers overhauled the decades-old school funding system with the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a complex (and often ignored) formula that seeks to give each school district enough money, in theory, to meet mid-level academic standards.

Current state leaders are itching to make their own changes to education. Their biggest push is to get public charter schools, which are designed to have more flexibility in academic offerings, operating hours or disciplinary approaches.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, all Republicans, say charter schools should foster innovation that could improve academic performance.

Critics, including Democratic former Secretary of State Dick Molpus, say officials now are taking too narrow an approach to education policy.

The charter school legislation's going to suck all the oxygen out of that legislative session, Molpus said. If 10 schools get established at 500 apiece, that's 5,000 students. That's less than 1 percent of the students in Mississippi.

Molpus was among the Winter staffers who helped steer the Education Reform Act into law. In 1995, Molpus unsuccessfully ran for governor. …