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Miss. and Tenn. Lawmakers Vote Down Efforts to Expand School Choice

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This Friday afternoon, catch up on all the school-choice related news that crossed the desk this week.

• Lawmakers in the Mississippi House of Representatives voted down a measure that would have created vouchers worth more than $6,000 for students with special needs in the state. The move, which would have cost the state $3 million in its first year and affected 500 students, was supported by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, who expressed disappointment about the outcome, according to an Associated Press article.

• In Tennessee, a measure that would have allowed for-profit groups to operate charter schools in the state was voted down in its final committee vote in the House of Representatives after a compelling speech from House speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican, according to an article from the Associated Press. Harwell expressed "grave reservations" about allowing for-profit companies to manage the schools, and her sentiments were echoed by Rep. John DeBerry, a Democrat. The measure was voted down in a 10-7 vote.

• The Connecticut state board of education this week approved four new charter schools—two to open in 2014-15 and the other two to open in 2015-16. The decision came after a draining seven hours of debate, said Bill Phillips, the president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, which advocates for charter schools in New York and Connecticut. Allowing four new charter schools to open in the state represents a departure from the board's previous decisions, he said. "It's clear that the Governor and Commissioner [of Education] view charters as a part of a broader reform effort," said Phillips in an interview with Education Week.

• Neerav Kingsland, the chief executive officer of New Schools for New Orleans, has announced that he will be stepping down from his post on July 1. Maggie Runyan-Shefa, the organization's current chief schools officer, and Michael Stone, the organization's chief external relations officer, will succeed Kingsland as co-chief executive officers. New Schools for New Orleans, in part, works to expand the number of high-performing charter schools in the city and support charter school boards in times of transition and crisis.

• In Pennsylvania, Robert Lombardi, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), which governs high school sports in the state, recommended legislation that would force charter school student athletes to play on sports teams in their home school rather than their charter school, if their home school offers that sport.¬†The idea was met with consternation from charter advocates, who testified against the proposal at a meeting at the state capitol, according to PennLive.¬†

Lombardi argued that because charter schools can pull students from across districts, they can create teams of all-star players that give the schools an unfair advantage. The catalyst for the debate seems to be charter schools' dominance in boys' state basketball tournaments. Since 2006,  charter schools have won eight times and finished second four times. While legislation around the topic does not appear to be moving forward, the dialogue between the PIAA and the charter school community will continue, said the article.

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