JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi House has killed an effort to consolidate school districts in Holmes County and Durant — at least for now.
The issue could be revived later this legislative session: Other school-district consolidation bills are working their way through the House and Senate, and someone could try to put Holmes County and Durant into one of those.
Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, represents a House district including part of Holmes County. He argued Thursday and Friday against House Bill 834, saying local residents, not legislators in Jackson, should decide whether to combine the two school districts.
Mississippi grades schools and school districts on an A-through-F scale as is done with report cards. In 2013, Holmes County was graded F and Durant was graded D.
Clark said he has heard from several constituents in Durant who want to keep their own district with a school in their own small town.
Several other lawmakers spoke Friday in support of Clark's position. Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, pointed out that Holmes County is majority-black and has long been one of the poorest parts of the state, with a legacy of slavery and segregation.
"They're still struggling to come up from centuries and years of oppression, where they were forced to exist in the most severe and dire poverty," Blackmon said.
Blackmon policymakers seem unwilling to make allowances for how poverty has affected Holmes County. He also said said mandating consolidation would be the same as telling people there, "'You're incapable of making these decisions on your own.'"
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Toby Barker of Hattiesburg, said Mississippi has too many school districts and spends too much on administrators.
"The business of bettering the environment for Mississippi's children, no matter where they are, is the business of every legislator," Barker said.
The House defeated the bill Friday with 58 members voting against it and 54 for it.
Other bills, still surviving, would consolidate the Greenwood and Leflore County districts and the Winona and Montgomery County districts. Those bills have passed the Senate and move to the House for more work.
The Senate killed a bill to consolidate the Claiborne County and Jefferson County school districts. The House killed one to consolidate the Coahoma County and Clarksdale districts.
Online: House Bill 834: http://bit.ly/1gAXGHB
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