December 31, 2012 9:28:13 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
When state lawmakers return to work Jan. 8, overhauling some aspects of the state's education system is expected to be top priority for the first 90-day session of the year.
Among the more contentious issues will be the re-introduction of charter school legislation in the Senate, a debate senate Republicans are planning to win.
"We will come away with a charter school bill this year," Sen. Pro Tempore Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said.
Brown said hearings on charter schools are expected to begin within a couple of weeks.
"The first thing we are going to do when we get to Jackson is listen to different committees and organizations on their budget requests," Brown said. "After that, we will jump right in to the charter schools. Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, is chairman of the education committee and he has authored the charter school bill for the Senate. I really expect for the debate to get pretty heated. I think there will be a lot of superintendents viewing it as a turf war and I expect some of them to get pretty vocal."
While the cost of the bill will be determined during the upcoming session, Tollison has said he is confident the state will find a way to find the money.
"It's going to take some money, but honestly we can redirect money and re-purpose money that is out there now and use our existing resources and focus on this area. I think when the governor, and the legislature, and the Lt. Governor and the Speaker are saying 'We think this is a priority,' it is going to tell educators and communities out there that we need to improve our third-grade reading proficiency," Tollison said in a recent interview with Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said the House of Representatives is also preparing to take up education in the upcoming session.
"The big deal this year from start to finish is going to be education," Chism said. "We will be discussing charter school, the appointment of superintendents and electing all school board members. This is the year of education."
Another contentious issue facing legislators will be health care and the economy. As the nation braces for the aftermath of the fiscal cliff debate, Brown said no one knows how the economy will affect Mississippians.
"We don't know what is going to happen with the economy," Brown said. "We don't know if this fiscal cliff deal can be worked out. All we know is that Obamacare will have an effect on the state's budget. We just don't know to what extent."