April 12 - 18, 2012
THE mississippi link • 5
Miss. charter school bill fails in House committee The Associated Press Emotions flared Tuesday, April 3, as a House committee rejected efforts to widen Mississippi’s provisions for charter schools, but the issue was far from dead. Gov. Phil Bryant immediately threatened a special session, and senators tried to figure out if they could tack most or all of the charter language onto another bill. House Education Committee members voted 16-15 to reject Senate Bill 2401, which had earlier passed the Senate, ending a six-day delay as proponents futilely tried to round up votes. Though two Democrats voted for the measure, five crucial Republicans broke ranks to reject the plan. Supporters say charter schools promise better academics in return for freedom from state rules. Opponents worry they could skim funding and motivated students from poorly performing districts, leaving them worse off. Bryant said he was considering stopping the regular session for a special session. Spokesman Mick Bullock said there was “no definite timeline’’ on when the Republican Governor might act. “Creating public charter schools is one way to give our children another opportunity
to succeed,’’ Bryant said in a statement. “I am considering calling a special session within the session to give lawmakers additional time to develop a workable public charter school bill. We must stop accepting failing schools that do not give kids the opportunities they deserve.’’ Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said he would consider amending another bill dealing with the state’s existing, limited, charter law to include a version of the rejected proposal. It wasn’t clear if legislative rules would allow the proposed system for funding the schools to be added by amendment. “We’re trying to figure that out,’’ Tollison said, as he went into the office of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves after the Senate adjourned. “I will not give up on my goal of providing every kid in Mississippi an opportunity for a better life, and Chairman Tollison and I are working together to find solutions to change the status quo,’’ the Reeves (R) said in a statement. House Education Committee Chairman John Moore, RBrandon, said that he didn’t understand how committee members, especially those from better-performing dis-
A House committee has rejected efforts to widen Mississippi’s provisions for charter schools in a vote of 16-15. Proponents say charter schools promise better academics in return for freedom from state rules while opponents worry about the financial ramifications. tricts, could reject the measure. “The parents are out there begging, begging for a good educational opportunity and apparently the members don’t want to see that happen, and it breaks my heart,’’ Moore said. Proponents and opponents both attended committee meetings to lobby House members, with many people left standing outside the jammed meeting room. Emotions ran high. As opponents in the hall broke into applause at the news of the bill’s defeat, one supporter standing near Rep.
Toddler drowns in Hattiesburg; parents arrested and charged A WDAM report HATTIESBURG - Steven Moore is the second person charged after a 2-year-old girl drowned in Black Creek Sunday night. Moore, 45, was arrested Tuesday, April 3, on child neglect charges stemming from the death of Alyssa Moore. Nick Calico, an investigator with the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department, said evidence collected during interviews led to the charges against Moore, who is also being held on a probation violation. Forrest County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Alyssa’s mother, 33-year-old Lauren Schmidt of Hattiesburg, late Sunday night following her release from Forrest General Hospital, where she was taken and treated for shock following the incident. Authorities said Schmidt told investigators that she left Alyssa with two juveniles to tend to her other, younger child, during the family outing. “What we’re being told is the child was playing in the
area on the sandbar by the water and the adults were down there back and forth between there and underneath the bridge,” said Calico. “That’s still part of the investigation, to find out who was there with the child at that time because there were so many people back and forth with the child.” Moore is not Alys- Thirty-three-year-old Lauren Schmidt (picsa’s biological child, tured) has been charged with child neglect but has been acting as after her 2-year-old daughter, Alyssa Moore, her father. drowned in Black Creek on April 1. The The investigation is child’s acting father, Steven Moore, has also ongoing, but authori- been charged. ties said it appears to Authorities said the tragedy have been an accidental drowning that happened at occurred during a family gathapproximately 5 p.m., April 1. ering near the lower bridge at The toddler’s body was re- Brooklyn and relatives noticed covered three hours later about Alyssa was missing only after a quarter mile downstream a few minutes. “We’re still investigating from where she was last seen whether alcohol or anything playing. In WDAM footage, Schmidt else was a contributing factor can be seen being helped out of in the incident,” Calico said. Schmidt was released from a rescue boat, soaking wet, after frantically swimming the creek jail Monday morning on in search of her daughter after $2,500 bond. Moore’s bond was also set at $2,500. she disappeared in the water.
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Wanda Jennings, R-Southaven, said that “you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You’re nothing more than a prostitute.’’ The remark was recorded by a Mississippi Public Broadcasting reporter interviewing Jennings, although it’s not clear it was directed at Jennings. She was one of three Republican DeSoto County House members who voted against the bill. Jennings later said she didn’t hear the remark. A supporter is also alleged to have shoved Rep. Reecy Dickson, D-Macon. It was unclear
if she was the same person caught on tape, and witnesses disputed what happened. Dickson declined to comment. Capitol Police Chief Wallace Rayborn said he interviewed the woman, and said Dickson declined to file assault charges. Afterward, leading charter schools supporter Rep. Chuck Espy, D-Clarksdale, made a heated speech before the House in which he vowed to personally investigate what happened to Dickson. “Lady, I respectfully and I tell you I am sincerely sorry for anything that happens to you in these halls,’’ Espy said. “I am going to get to the bottom of it, and I am going to demand a formal apology to you.’’ Proponents have repeatedly blamed current school leaders, especially superintendents, for opposition to the bill. “The education establishment has built a Berlin wall around the current system to keep their own people from escaping to freedom,’’ said Forest Thigpen, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservativeleaning group and one of the architects of the charter effort. One superintendent repeatedly singled out is Milton Kuykendall, the elected super-
intendent of the state’s largest school system, DeSoto County. But Pat Nelson, R-Southaven, denied that he was swayed or intimidated by Kuykendall. “He’s not asked me one time to vote for or against this bill. I know there’s a misconception that he exerts a lot of influence,’’ Nelson said. The bill before the House committee would have given a veto to school districts rated successful, high performing or star, would have required half of all charter school teachers to have state certification and barred all-online charter schools. Nelson said he was relatively supportive of that version, but worried concessions would be stripped out when House and Senate leaders met to reconcile differences, and the bill would come back with “manure’’ in it. Another opponent, Rep. Rufus Straughter, D-Belzoni, said charter schools wouldn’t help enough students, and that he remained afraid private schools would find ways to reincarnate themselves as public schools. He instead advocates an intensive effort to improve parental involvement. “If we want to help the public schools to be better, we’ve got to find ways of helping the community,’’ Straughter said.
Convicted felon gets life for murder of Jackson man By Monica Land Contributing Writer A 31-year-old convicted felon has been sentenced to life in prison, without parole, for shooting a man three times in the head in 2009. Attorney General Jim Hood said it took a Hinds County jury less than an hour to find Nicholas Khan Carson guilty of the murder of Roderick McDonald. Carson, who had been charged with capital murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, was sentenced as a habitual offender because of four prior felony convictions: three for selling cocaine in Madison County and one for receiving stolen goods in
Hinds County. The murder case against Carson began when McDonald was found in a mobile home at the Homewood Manor trailer park on North State Street just before midnight on Jan. 9, 2009. A neighbor called police when she heard gunshots and responding officers found McDonald with three gunshot wounds to the back of the head and one gunshot in the right leg. He was pronounced dead at the scene. McDonald was Jackson’s first homicide of 2009. Police also discovered that McDonald’s white 1993 Honda Accord was missing, and the in-
vestigation led authorities to Carson. Carson was arrested a few days later at an apartment complex on County Line Road. “We are hopeful that the family and friends of the victim in this case received some sense of justice from this conviction handed down by the Hinds County Jury,” Attorney General Hood said.
Air guardsman dies at Camp Shelby A WDAM report HATTIESBURG - A Mississippi Air National Guardsman has died while performing duties at the Air-Ground Range at Camp Shelby. The National Guard [said] in a news release that Master Sgt. Kevin L. Johnson of McHenry was pronounced dead Friday (April 6) at Forrest General Hospital (FGH) after collapsing at the range.
An autopsy has been ordered. Johnson was currently assigned as the Air-Ground Range Noncommissioned Officer at Camp Shelby. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Timothy Powell, spokesman for the Mississippi Air National Guard, said the range allows aircraft to perform target practice. Powell said after losing radio contact, a search party found Johnson collapsed on the range.
He was evacuated by helicopter about 3 p.m. to FGH. The Guard release stated the 51-year-old Johnson was a Navy veteran and member of the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport. He spent 22 years with the Air Guard, serving in numerous positions. Johnson is survived by his wife and two daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending.