The Empower Mississippi news blog brings you the latest from the school choice and education reform movement in Mississippi and beyond.
When Parents Control Their Child’s Education
October 25, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
No one knows a child better than their parents and that is why we believe they should be empowered to choose the best education for their child, similar to how they choose their child’s doctor or what activities they may participate in. Fortunately, this is the direction Mississippi has begun to move toward over the past five years.
However, education choice is relatively new to Mississippi. On the other hand, one state with a long history of both public and private school choice is Arizona. The first charter schools opened just last year in Mississippi, but they have been around for more than 20 years in the Grand Canyon State. Today, more than 600 schools serve nearly 200,000 students- about 15 percent of the total public school enrollment in…. READ MORE
Callen: Charter schools represent hope in Mississippi
Grant Callen, Guest Columnist, October 23, 2016
For more than a decade, a political debate took place in the media, across the state and under the Capitol dome about whether Mississippi would allow public charter schools to operate.
In 2013, the Charter Schools Act finally passed into law, and in 2015 the first free, public charter schools opened their doors. Charters are schools of choice, so no students are assigned to them. Approximately 225 Jackson students voluntarily left their schools and enrolled in one of two public charter schools. A third charter school opened this fall, quickly reached full capacity, and created a waiting list. In total, 527 Jackson students are now enrolled in public charter schools.
Yet, one year after the first charter opened, forces that lost the legislative battle over charters have taken their fight to the judiciary, filing a lawsuit in Hinds County arguing that Mississippi’s charter school law is unconstitutional… READ MORE
Press Release: New Campaign Highlights Positive Impact Of Mississippi’s Charter Schools
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: OCTOBER 19, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– Empower Mississippi and the Save Our Schools Coalition announce the launch of a campaign to highlight public charter school students in Mississippi and the devastating consequences they would experience if a lawsuit attempting to shut down charter schools were to be successful.
The campaign includes videos featuring families from all three charter schools and a website where supporters can sign a petition, www.saveourschools.org.
“Public charter schools in Mississippi are opening new doors of opportunity to Jackson students, why would anyone want to take that away?” said…. READ MORE
Legislature To Review Education Funding Formula
October 12, 2016 by Grant Callen
Yesterday, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn announced that the legislature will begin examining the state’s two-decade old funding formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The House Management and Senate Rules Committees hired EdBuild, a national nonprofit organization that helps states across the country modernize their education funding formula.
“Any formula that calls for significant increases in administrative expenses while decreasing instructional spending should be re-evaluated,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “In an era of apps and iPads, Mississippi students deserve school funding based on their classroom needs…. READ MORE
Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality Of ESA Program
September 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled today that the nation’s most expansive school choice program is Constitutional.
In 2015, Nevada passed a near universal Education Savings Account (ESA) program available to every public school student in the state. Opponents of the legislation quickly filed suit, and the ESA has been on hold for the more than 8,000 families that registered for the program.
Those filing the lawsuit claimed that the program violated the state’s so-called Blaine Amendment which prohibits public funding “for sectarian purposes.” The Supreme Court, however, rejected those arguments and agreed with the state that the program was enacted…. READ MORE
Parents Win Right To Intervene In Charter School Lawsuit
September 28, 2016 by Steve Wilson | Watchdog.org
Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas ruled Wednesday that a group of parents, the state’s charter school association and Midtown Public Charter School can intervene in a lawsuit that threatens funding for Mississippi charter schools.
In July, the Southern Poverty Law Center and some parents of Jackson Public School District students filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court challenging the constitutionality of charter school funding in Mississippi. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Department of Education and the JPS are listed as defendants in the case. The state’s 2013 charter school law allows charters to receive money from the school district where they are located and from Mississippi Department of Education…. READ MORE
One Family Experiences Both Joy And Sadness With Special Needs ESA Lottery
September 27, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
In late July, more than 300 families across the state went to their mailboxes anxiously awaiting a letter from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). The letter would tell them whether or not their number was pulled and their child would receive a coveted spot in the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
Created in 2015, the Special Needs ESA allows students who have an Individualized Education Plan to receive a scholarship that can be used by parents on a variety of education expenses, including tuition and fees, textbooks, therapy, online curriculum, etc. During the first year of the program, 251 of the 434 available scholarships were awarded at the beginning of the school year. Because of the rolling application process and the available slots, that enrollment number increased each quarter last year. But all qualified applicants…. READ MORE
How School Choice Is Influencing Education
September 19, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
In parts of the country that have thriving education choice programs, schools are working overtime to attract students and parents are able to choose the best education for their child. It has not always been this way and in many places these options still do not exist.
For more than 100 years, we treated education the same: students are assigned a public school based solely on their zip code and the school district they happen to be zoned for. There were no considerations for what school may be the best fit for that child or if they have a specific program that child needs. And for many, that worked- and continues to work- just fine.
Those with the financial resources often decide where they live based on the…. READ MORE
U.S. Senate Committee Passes Bill To Offer School Choice To Native American Students
September 8, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved legislation on Wednesday that would provide educational choice opportunities to Native American students.
The Native American Education Opportunity Act would create Education Savings Accounts (ESA) for Native American students living on Indian reservations in states where an ESA program is currently in place. Mississippi is one of four states where students would be eligible. The customizable ESA would offer an alternative to attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and could be used to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, etc.
“A new school year has begun for about 41,000 Native American students in 185 BIE schools around the nation,” said Senator John McCain…. READ MORE
Education Choice Enrollment Grows 80 Percent In One Year
August 30, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
In a very short time, education choice enrollment in Mississippi has grown significantly; new programs have been added as parents have sought new educational options for their children. This year alone, education choice enrollment has grown by over 80 percent!
Mississippi currently has four school choice programs available, all enacted within the past four years. This includes public charter schools and three private school choice programs: The Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA), the Dyslexia Scholarship, and the Speech Language Therapy Scholarship. Here is a review of the school choice programs currently available and the number of students…. READ MORE
Budget Group Talks Education, Spending
August 23, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Special legislative committees, which were recently formed to study the state’s current tax structure and spending among the largest agencies, including K-12, began meeting yesterday.
Public education, which received more than $2.5 billion in state funding this year, makes up the largest individual slice of the Mississippi general fund budget at about 40 percent of the total budget. All education, including K-12, community colleges, and IHL, accounts for around 54 percent of the state’s general fund…. READ MORE
93 Percent Of Students Return To Reimagine. Zero Go Back To JPS.
August 18, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
There are a number of indicators we use to judge our schools, such as test scores, graduation rates, and accountability ratings. But few data points can paint a picture as well as parental satisfaction, especially in schools of choice where parents must choose to enroll their child in that particular school.
After all, if no parents opted to enroll their child in a school of choice, such as a public charter school, there would be no school. These schools rely on parents being satisfied with the education their child is receiving or they will have to close their doors.
Parents are the ultimate accountability rating. That is why we believe no one can determine the right education for a child like…. READ MORE
Corinth: A District Of Innovation
August 16, 2016 by Grant Callen with Brett Kittredge
Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, some 230 miles north of Jackson sits the Alcorn County seat of Corinth, Mississippi. The city borders Tennessee and to say it’s far removed from our state’s seat of government would be an understatement. In fact, you can get to the state capitals of Arkansas and Tennessee faster than you can make it to Jackson.
Inside Corinth, a city of about 15,000, sits a public school district that is doing extraordinary things. And it is one of three districts in the state taking part in the new “District of ” program. I recently had the opportunity to visit the district, to sit down Dr. Lee Childress, the superintendent, and to hear what the district is…. READ MORE
Celebrating The Legacy Of Milton Friedman
July 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
More than six decades ago, economist Milton Friedman first proposed the idea of giving parents the opportunity to use the public funds associated with their child’s education to pay for private school if they desired. Today, we join numerous organizations across the country in celebrating the 2016 Friedman Legacy Day.
When Friedman introduced these ideas there were two school choice programs in the country; town tuitioning programs in Vermont and Maine. They have been around since the 1800s and in both programs towns without any local public schools pay for tuition of their residents to attend either neighboring public schools or private schools. But in reality, school choice as we know it today was nowhere near the national radar.
In fact, it would be more than three decades before a state passed a new school choice program. Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program was enacted in…. READ MORE
School Choice Highlights 2016 Republican Party Platform
July 27, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The Republican Party adopted the 2016 platform at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio last week explicitly outlining the Party’s support for school choice.
The new platform called education choice “one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time” and detailed the Party’s support for education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, tuition tax credits, and portability of federal funding:
We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative…. READ MORE
Special Needs ESA Program Grows 70 Percent Over Previous Year
July 21, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Yesterday the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) conducted a lottery to award the remaining 175 scholarships for the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program. This year a total of 425 scholarships will be awarded to students in Mississippi.
The lottery drawing, held at MDE’s temporary headquarters at the South Pointe Business Park in Clinton, utilized a random number generator to determine the 175 recipients. There were 304 approved applications in the lottery competing for the available slots. Those that did not receive a scholarship, along with those that continue to apply, will have their name put on a waiting list for future openings.
Last year, in the first year of the program, 251 of the 434 available scholarships had been awarded by the beginning of the…. READ MORE
Spending Still Does Not Translate With Academic Success
July 19, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The Mississippi Department of Education released the school accountability ratings for the 2014-2015 school year last week. This is the final year that schools and school districts can receive a waiver, which keeps official grades from declining even if student performance would otherwise result in a lower grade.
With the new ratings, we have again updated our review of what each school district spends per student along with their accountability rating to paint a picture on spending and academic outcomes. Many people believe that the school districts with the largest tax base spend the most and therefore have the highest ratings from MDE. That, however, is not the case. As you can see, on average school districts rated “A” and “B” spend significantly less than school districts rated “C” and “D.” There were no school districts rated…. READ MORE
Charter Schools Not To Blame For JPS’ Declining Enrollment
July 18, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
One of the primary arguments made by proponents of the lawsuit against charter schools in Mississippi is that as students leave Jackson Public Schools they are draining the finances of the school district. Last year was the first year Reimagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School were opened and approximately 230 students left JPS to attend either of the schools.
In Mississippi, like many other states, schools are funded based on the number of students attending and therefore funding fluctuates as a student body increases or decreases. If a student leaves a school district, that district no longer receives funding for the student they are no longer educating.
For JPS, a declining student body is nothing new- and is certainly not something that can be…. READ MORE
Takeaways From The New School Ratings
July 14, 2016 by Grant Callen
The Mississippi Department of Education has released the latest school accountability ratings for the 2014-2015 school year. This is the final year that schools and school districts can receive a waiver, which keeps official grades from declining even if student performance would otherwise result in a lower grade. Overall, 19 school districts were “A” rated, 43 were “B” rated, 54 were “C” rated, 30 were “D” rated, and zero were “F” rated. The full ratings for every school and school district can be found here.
School and school district grades continue to be artificially inflated due to waivers they received as the state was transitioning to new tests and higher standards. For three straight years, no school or district has experienced a dip in their grade, even…. READ MORE
Numerous Organizations Decry Charter School Lawsuit
July 13, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s charter school law, there was a sharp and immediate response from Empower Mississippi and numerous state and national organizations denouncing the lawsuit and the effect it would have on families seeking high quality options in the education of their children
Here is a review of what other organizations have said about the lawsuit.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to substitute its own judgment about what is best over the decisions of families who have made very personal choices on behalf of their…. READ MORE
Press Release: Statement On Frivolous Lawsuit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 12, 2016
Yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s charter school law. Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen released the following statement:
It is unconscionable that an organization that purports to represent low income families would attack an institution that has opened new doors of opportunity for low income families in Jackson to finally have access to a quality educational setting. For decades, families in Jackson sought new education options for their children, and finally in 2015, with the opening of Reimagine Prep Charter School and Midtown Public Charter School, parents had a choice about where their children could attend school. While performance data is not yet available for these newly opened schools, we do know that over two hundred…. READ MORE
Last Chance To Apply For Special Needs ESA
July 11, 2016 by Grant Callen
The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) announced today that a lottery will be held on July 20 to award the remaining scholarships available for year two in the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program.
For the 2016-17 school year, 425 ESA slots are available. As of July 1, 250 have been awarded to returning students, with 175 new slots open for the next school year. Since the number of applications exceeds the number of scholarships available, MDE will hold a lottery on July 20 to determine who will receive the remaining scholarships.
ESA amounts for the upcoming school year will be increased from $6,500 to $6,637, as scholarship amounts are adjusted proportionally to changes in the base student cost of MAEP. Because of this increase and overall funding for the program remaining flat, the number of available scholarships…. READ MORE
Mississippi Wins Major Education Award
June 29, 2016 by Grant Callen
Governor Phil Bryant and the state of Mississippi received the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States yesterday. This award recognized Mississippi for, “A transformational education reform package that prioritized early learning reading skills, expanded charter schools opportunities and created a clear A through F rating system for schools, among other accomplishments.”
The Frank Newman Award for State Innovation recognizes states for the following:
Education improvement efforts that are replicable and hold valuable lessons for other states…. READ MORE
Top 6 Stories From The First 6 Months
June 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
We have shared many great moments during the first six months of the year, including January’s school choice rally, passage of numerous education reform bills during the legislative session, and a recent celebration of Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and key legislators for their work in providing new education opportunities for families across the state.
As we reach the half-way point of the year, here is a review of the top six stories from 2016, based on page views and social media engagement…. READ MORE
Special Needs ESA Enters Second Year
June 28, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The Equal Opportunity For Students With Special Needs program enters its second year this fall as we look back on a successful first year of a program that is changing lives for students across the state.
After a report showed that just 23 percent of students with special needs graduate from high school in Mississippi, the legislature adopted this program to provide parents with new options for the education of their children. At the time, Mississippi was just the third state in the nation to create an Education Scholarship Account program. This program is truly innovative in treating students as individuals with unique needs and equipping parents with the tools to help them meet those needs. Funds can be used on a variety of educational expenses, including private school tuition and fees, therapy, tutoring…. READ MORE
Five Years Of Student-Centered Education Reform
June 21, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Empower Mississippi recently celebrated the achievements of the past legislative session, including expansions to the charter school law and the Education Scholarship Account, a renewal of the Dyslexia Scholarship program, and a move to all appointed school superintendents. This year, however, was not an anomaly, but a continuation of the student-centered education reforms from the past five years.
Under the leadership of Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn, strong education reforms have passed virtually every year.
The goal of each of these reforms has been to provide accountability, transparency, and to expand…. READ MORE
Press Release: Reeves Named Education Reformer Of The Year
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 16, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– Lt. Governor Tate Reeves received the “Education Reformer of the Year” award today at the First Annual Empower Mississippi Awards Luncheon.
Lt. Gov. Reeves was honored for his role in championing strong education reforms this session, including appointed superintendents, charter school and Education Scholarship Account program expansions, and the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship program renewal. This session marked the fifth consecutive year that the state legislature has adopted student-centered education reforms designed to provide accountability…. READ MORE
Press Release: 2016 Education Report Card Released
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 16, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI–Empower Mississippi released the 2016 Education Report Card today, grading every member of the legislature on key school choice and education reform votes from the past legislative session.
This year, 45 members in the House and 21 members in the Senate received an “A,” and a majority in both chambers received at least a “B.” The legislation that was graded in the 2016 Education Report Card includes appointed superintendents, charter school and Education Scholarship Account expansions, and the renewal of the Dyslexia Therapy…. READ MORE
Mississippi School For Mathematics And Science: A School Choice Success Story
June 14, 2016 by Grant Callen
The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) has been in the news recently as a result of level funding from the state legislature that has led to reductions in the number of available spots for students. The media coverage generally has made the case for more funding for schools like MSMS.
Increased funding may very well be needed, but what recent coverage has missed is that the Mississippi School for Math the Science and similarly the Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA) are two of the most strikingly successful – and widely acclaimed – examples of public school choice success in Mississippi. These schools provide a challenging college preparatory experience for some of the most gifted students…. READ MORE
High Bar For Opening A Charter School In Mississippi
June 9, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Monday was the completion of the first stage in the process for those wishing to open a charter school in Mississippi during the 2017-2018 school year. Of the nine operators who filed a letter of intent in March, just three remain in the running today.
And the process is not nearly complete. The independent evaluation period will soon begin, followed by interviews and hearings before the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board makes a final decision in September. If history is an indication, the field of charter school operators approved by the Board this fall will be even smaller. There is no question that Mississippi has a high bar for opening a charter school and that was done intentionally.
When the original charter school law was passed in 2013, it was designed to emulate…. READ MORE
Applications For Five New Charter Schools Moving Forward
June 7, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Applications have been submitted by three charter school operators proposing to open five charter schools in Mississippi, four in Jackson and one in Drew.
The next step in the process is for outside evaluators to examine the applications, who will then notify the authorizing board on July 11. In September, the board will then vote on the applicants who pass that hurdle after a series of interviews and a public hearing.
The proposed charter schools include I Can Schools of Maple Heights, Ohio, proposing three K-8 schools in Jackson, opening one each in 2017, 2018 and 2019, New Orleans-based Collegiate Academies proposing a high school…. READ MORE
Charter Schools Turn 25
June 6, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Saturday, June 4 marked the 25th anniversary of Minnesota passing the nation’s first charter school law. And while charters schools are certainly not a new concept, they are still relatively new to the Magnolia State. The state’s first two charter schools opened their doors to about 250 students last August. Those schools will each be adding a grade next year, and a third school is set to open as well. All charter schools are currently located in Jackson.
Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. The concept was created to help improve our nation’s public education system and offer parents another option to meet their children’s…. READ MORE
Sign The Petition: I Support School Choice
June 1, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
We believe that no one knows a child better than their parents, and just like the parents are responsible for choosing a child’s doctor, they should have the right to choose the best education for their child. After all, every child is unique and a “one-size-fits-all” form of education may not be the best setting for each child.
Unfortunately, school choice is currently limited mostly to those who can either afford to move or afford to pay private school tuition. A child’s zip code should not dictate the quality of education they will receive.
With school choice, we can tear these barriers down. The most comprehensive survey of the school choice research literature ever undertaken, which was recently released, shows that students in school choice programs perform better academically than students not in a…. READ MORE
Research Shows that School Choice Works
May 31, 2016 by Grant Callen
School choice programs provide families with life-changing options in where they send their children to school. For a child in a failing school, being able to transfer to a new school can mean the difference between a child succeeding in life, pursuing his or her dreams or dropping out of school, and struggling to find work.
Many philosophical and moral arguments can be made to support school choice. One can argue that every kid has the right to a quality education and that helping kids leave failing schools is morally right. However, one of the best arguments is that is has a proven track record of success. And this argument has recently seen a major boost with the release of a research report by academics from the University of Arkansas that clearly shows the success of school choice…. READ MORE
How Does School Choice Effect Racial Segregation?
May 19, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
As the United States marks the 62nd anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision which declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional, a new study looks at the effect school choice has had in reducing racial segregation in schools.
In his latest report, A Win-Win Solution, Greg Forster, Ph. D. looked at ten empirical studies that have examined school choice and racial segregation. Of those, nine have found that school choice moves students into less racially segregated classrooms than the public schools they were previously attending. One study found no visible effect, while no studies have found a negative effect.
“Public schools are intractably segregated by race, mostly because students are assigned to schools based on where…. READ MORE
First Annual Empower Mississippi Awards Luncheon Scheduled
May 10, 2016 by Empower Mississippi
An upcoming luncheon will celebrate the education reform victories this legislative session.
The 1st Annual Empower Mississippi Awards Luncheon will honor Lt. Governor Tate Reeves with our “Education Reformer of the Year” Award and recognize key members of the state legislature for their hard work in ensuring more Mississippi families have access to high quality education options. We will also be releasing our 2016 Education Report Card, which grades each member of the legislature on their education reform votes.
Nina Rees, the President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, will keynote the luncheon and provide an update on how the charter…. READ MORE
Mississippi Receives National Education Award
May 10, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Mississippi has been named the 2016 recipient of the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation for the student-centered education reforms that have been enacted over the past several years.
These reforms include charter schools, education scholarship accounts, special needs vouchers, the Literacy Based Promotion Act of 2013, and a clear A-F grading system for schools and school districts.
“Reforming and modernizing our public education system to give parents and students more choice and the opportunity for better outcomes has been a priority of my administration…. READ MORE
New Survey Shows Support For Charter Schools And School Choice Remains Strong
April 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has released a new survey showing that parents across the country strongly favor charter schools and school choice.
Here are the findings from the survey of more than 1,000 parents of children who are preschool through high school age:
Seventy-eight percent favor allowing families to choose which public school the student attends, regardless of where they live. These numbers are even higher for Hispanics (84 percent), African Americans (82 percent), and low-income families (86 percent). A majority…. READ MORE
School Choice And Education Reform A Big Winner This Session
April 26, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After an intense four months, the 2016 legislative session came to an end last week. With multiple school choice and education reform bills already signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant, we can report that this was a great session for the children of Mississippi!
This marks the fifth consecutive year that the state legislature has adopted student-centered education reforms designed to provide accountability, transparency, and most importantly new education options for families. Contrary to what you have likely heard from the media, there is no doubt that the current political leadership is moving Mississippi in the right direction on education issues.
At Empower, we believe that every parent in Mississippi should…. READ MORE
Gov. Bryant Signs Two More School Choice Bills Into Law
April 19, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Governor Phil Bryant signed legislation into law yesterday that will renew and expand two school choice programs for Mississippi students.
House Bill 33 will expand the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program to any student who has received an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in the past five years. Currently, a student must have received an IEP in the past 18 months to be eligible.
Under this program, families who wish to withdraw their child from public school are eligible to receive an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) of $6,500 for a variety of education…. READ MORE
Gov. Bryant Signs Charter School Legislation Into Law
April 14, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Governor Phil Bryant signed legislation today to provide parents with more school choice options by expanding access to charter schools in Mississippi.
Senate Bill 2161, which passed the Senate last week and the House the week prior, will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside.
By allowing students to cross district lines, charter schools will now be able to open in high-need areas, such as the…. READ MORE
Charter School Expansion Headed To Governor
April 13, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The Senate cleared a final procedural hurdle today and voted to send the charter school expansion to the Governor. This legislation passed the Senate last week, but was held on a motion to reconsider.
Senate Bill 2161 will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside. By allowing students to cross district lines, charter schools will now be able to open in high-need areas where the small size of many of the school districts has made the creation of a charter school virtually…. READ MORE
2016 Legislative Session Is Winding Down
April 8, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
With less than three weeks left in the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers are busy putting the finishing touches on general bills before they head to the Governor. Last Thursday was the deadline for floor action on bills originating in the opposite chamber and next Thursday, April 14, is the deadline to concur (or not concur) on those bills.
The school choice reforms adopted by the legislature this year are already receiving national attention with the Washington Times saying, “Mississippi parents and school choice advocates hit a trifecta last week” after expansions to the charter school law and the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, and a renewal of the Dyslexia Scholarship Program occurred on…. READ MORE
Press Release: Senate Sends Charter School Legislation To Governor
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 7, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– Today the Senate voted to concur with the charter school expansion that previously passed the House and send the legislation to the Governor.
Senate Bill 2161 will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside. By allowing students to cross district lines, charter schools will now be able to open in high-need areas where the small size of many of the school districts has made the creation of a charter school…. READ MORE
Education Scholarship Account Provides A Solid Foundation
April 6, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
When Bella Rose Douglas was in first grade, her parents, Tim and Nancy, noticed she was struggling with reading and her speech was delayed. As the year went on, Bella Rose was not progressing despite the evaluations and interventions she was receiving.
To make the situation worse, negative comments from other students ‘not wanting her in their reading group because she read slowly’ caused Bella Rose to doubt her own ability, which then just led to more frustration for everyone involved.
A psychologist who specializes in special education testing urged the family to have Bella Rose tested for dyslexia rather than wait for the school district, which could have been…. READ MORE
A Tremendous Day For School Choice In Mississippi
March 29, 2016 by Grant Callen
Yesterday both the House and Senate passed important legislation to expand school choice opportunities for Mississippi students, including expansions to the charter school law and the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program, and a renewal of the Dyslexia Scholarship Program. In fact, I’d argue that yesterday was the largest single day for school choice in Mississippi history.
Here are yesterday’s highlights:
Charter Schools: The House passed Senate Bill 2161 on a 64-52 vote. This proposed legislation allows students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students…. READ MORE
Press Release: Charter School Legislation Passes House
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MARCH 28, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– Legislation to expand access to charter schools has passed the House and now returns to the Senate.
Senate Bill 2161, which was amended by the House Education Committee, will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside.
“This is important legislation that will provide new educational opportunities to families trapped in failing schools throughout Mississippi,” said Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen. “By allowing students to cross district lines, charter…. READ MORE
Mississippi’s Third Grade Reading Gate Is A Success
March 28, 2016
Last week, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill raising the bar on the Literacy-Based Promotion Act – commonly referred to as the third grade “reading gate” – to further ensure that Mississippi students learn to read by the fourth grade. Originally passed in 2013, the third grade “reading gate” has already been a great success for students.
The ability to read – functional literacy – is one of the most important parts of elementary education. Students who never fully learn to read cannot read to learn and are unable to succeed in higher grades. In the past, Mississippi has had many students moved through the school…. READ MORE
Switch To All Appointed Superintendents The Right Move
March 25, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After years of trying, the House of Representatives has passed legislation to make the switch to all appointed school superintendents. The Senate passed this legislation earlier in the session and it now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
We thank Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, and House Education Committee Chairman John Moore for their consistent and steadfast support of this legislation.
This a step in the right direction for education in Mississippi. This bill will bring accountability and transparency to…. READ MORE
3 Reasons To Support Charter School Expansion
March 23, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Legislation pending in the House of Representatives would expand access to charter schools for Mississippi families. This is a critical bill to provide parents with more educational options and to allow charter schools to be successful around our state.
Senate Bill 2161 passed the Senate earlier in the session with a bi-partisan 31-19 vote. It was amended in the House Education Committee and now awaits action from the full House. In its current form, this legislation will allow students in “C,” “D,” or “F” rated districts to cross district lines to attend a charter school. A charter school would still need approval from local school boards to open in “A,” “B,” or “C” rated districts. This proposal is a compromise between bills that previously passed the House and…. READ MORE
Committees Quickly Approaching Next Deadline
March 18, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
While bills to raise taxes, reduce taxes, and fund our government have been much of the legislature’s focus the past two weeks, we are quickly approaching the next legislative deadline. Tuesday is the deadline for committees to clear legislation that was sent from the opposite chamber or those bills will be dead for this session.
Here is an update on the status of important school choice and education reform bills pending in the legislature.
Charter Schools: SB 2161 would allow for the creation of charter schools in “C” rated districts (without local school board approval), allow students to cross district lines to attend…. READ MORE
Legislation Introduced To Provide Educational Options For Native American Students
March 17, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has introduced legislation that will provide school choice opportunities for Native American students.
The Native American Education Opportunity Act would create Education Savings Accounts (ESA) for Native American students living on Indian reservations in states where an ESA program is currently in place. Mississippi is one of four states where students would be eligible. The customizable ESA would offer an alternative to attending Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and could be used to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, etc.
Mississippi currently has eight BIE schools, the most of any state east of the Mississippi River. This…. READ MORE
Rankin County School Board Member Stands Up For School Choice
March 16, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
In 2015, school district employees, especially administrators and school board members, were among the loudest proponents of Initiative 42, the education funding ballot initiative that voters rejected last fall. They are also among the most vocal opponents of school choice policies that have been considered by the state legislature in recent years.
But one new school board member has not been shy in supporting educational opportunities for families beyond public school, arguing that it should not matter where children are being educated at- as long as they are being educated.
David Dyess was elected to the Rankin County School Board in a special election in November for a seat that encompasses…. READ MORE
Charter Schools: 25 Years Of Changing Lives
March 14, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Legislation to expand access to charter schools is currently moving through the legislative process and we are hopeful that both chambers can agree on a strong bill that will be beneficial to all Mississippi families seeking options in the education of their children.
And while charters schools are certainly not a new concept- the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992- they are still relatively new to the Magnolia State. The state’s first two charter schools opened their doors to about 250 students last August. Those schools will each be adding a grade next year, and a third school is set to open as well. All charter schools are currently located in Jackson.
Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held…. READ MORE
How Charter Schools Turned A Failing School District Around
March 11, 2016
Charter schools provide innovative and flexible educational formats and give parents more options in choosing the right education for their children. Forty-two states and Washington D.C. have implemented charter schools to enhance educational outcomes and to give struggling students a better chance for success.
As Mississippi looks to expand charter schools, the success stories from other states provide roadmaps for how to best use charters to improve public education for children in our state.
One of the best and most expansive examples of an implemented charter school system comes from our sister state of Louisiana. Our immediate neighbor to…. READ MORE
The International Success Of School Choice
March 7, 2016
Across the nation, charter schools are providing much needed and innovative opportunities for children. Every day over two-million children attend charter schools in the United States. That number is steadily growing as states continue to implement and expand charter school legislation. However, the success of charters and school choice is not limited to the United States. School choice has become a global movement with successes spanning across continents.
Much of the expansion of school choice in other countries has centered around charter-style schools, which are called by various names in other countries. Charter schooling has been proven to work both in the US and around the world. As Mississippi considers expanding access to its charter schools, we should consider the worldwide successes of such educational…. READ MORE
Legislation Now Moves To Opposite Chamber
March 4, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The legislature had another busy week sorting through a few hundred bills on the calendar before yesterday’s deadline for passage. Anything that did not make it out of either the House or Senate is dead for this legislative session. Committees will now have until March 22 to pass legislation that was sent to them from the opposite chamber.
Numerous important school choice and education reform measures were introduced this year. Here is the status of those bills as we move forward.
Education Scholarship Accounts: Two bills were introduced this year that would have expanded the ESA program to include most public school students in the state…. READ MORE
Senate Passes Meaningful Legislation To Strengthen Charter Schools
March 2, 2016 by Grant Callen
Yesterday the Mississippi Senate voted (SB 2161) to expand access to charter schools for Mississippi families. In a bi-partisan 31-19 vote (see the roll call here), the Senate made a number of important amendments to the current charter school law.
We thank Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Senate Education Chairman Gray Tollison for their strong support of charter schools, and this legislation.
The new legislation would allow for the creation of charter schools in “C” rated districts (without local school board approval). Currently charter schools are only permitted in “D” or “F” rated…. READ MORE
Thursday’s Deadline Is Fast Approaching
March 1, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The legislature had a busy day yesterday and that will continue throughout the week. They have until the end of Thursday to pass about 200 bills remaining on the calendar or they will be dead for this legislative session. This includes a number of important school choice and education reform measures that will make a positive impact on the children of Mississippi.
Before these important floor votes, your legislators need to hear from you. We’ve made that simple! Click here to write your legislator a quick note in support of these bills and we will hand deliver your note to the State Capitol.
Here is the pending legislation we…. READ MORE
School Choice Unifies Republican Presidential Candidates
March 1, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
As the presidential primaries continue, Mississippians will have the opportunity to make their voices heard one week from today on March 8. Since we last looked at where each Republican presidential candidates stands on school choice issues, the field has narrowed but one constant remains: Every Republican presidential candidate supports policies providing more educational choices for families and more opportunities for students.
Let’s look at what the candidates are saying:
Donald Trump talked about his support for school choice in his book, The America We Deserve. “Right now, nine of ten children attend public schools,” Trump said. “If you look at public education as a business- and with nearly…. READ MORE
Legislation Now Faces March 3 Deadline For Floor Action
February 24, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Yesterday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to consider legislation. Anything that did not make it out of committee, which includes most bills that were introduced this year, is dead for the legislative session. Over the more than 2,400 general bills introduced this year, around 500 are alive today. Lawmakers will now debate those bills on the floor of each chamber with a March 3 deadline for passage.
There are a number of important school choice and education reforms bills that have cleared their committees and are now on the general calendar. Here is what we will be monitoring over the next eight days:
Education Scholarship Accounts: Two bills were introduced this year that would have expanded the ESA program to include most public school students in the…. READ MORE
“This Was An Answer To Our Prayers”
February 22, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After struggling for years, Lanna Beard received an Education Scholarship Account in 2015 which allows her to attend New Summit School in Jackson. Although this was recommended by her family physician in the past, this was cost prohibitive before the ESA.
Today, Lanna is thriving in her new environment.
During National School Choice Week, Lanna’s mother, Martha, talked about the success her daughter is having in her new…. READ MORE
Dyslexia Scholarship Should Be Renewed And Expanded
February 22, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
In 2012 the state legislature adopted the Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia Program with strong bi-partisan support. This program is set to expire at the end of June if it is not renewed first.
Students who are in first through sixth grade and have been screened properly and diagnosed with dyslexia are eligible for the scholarship. The legislation provides a scholarship in an amount equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, which is around $5,000.
This program is small, just two percent of the state is eligible, with about 150 students enrolled. However, it has grown more than 350 percent…. READ MORE
Legislation Must Make It Out Of Committee By Tuesday
February 19, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Committees in the House and Senate have been busy sorting through legislation as lawmakers are quickly approaching the next legislative deadline. Tuesday, February 23 is the deadline for committees to report on general bills originating in their own chamber. This means that any bill that has not cleared the committee (or both committees if it was double referred) is dead for this legislative session.
A number of important school choice and education reform bills have cleared their committees and now await action on the floor. Several others are up against the clock. Here are a few of the highlights:
Education Scholarship Accounts: Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate to expand the ESA program to…. READ MORE
Press Release: Equal Opportunity For All Students Act Clears House Committee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FEBRUARY 18, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– The Equal Opportunity For All Students Act, HB 943, has passed the House Education Committee today and will now head to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.
The deadline for committees to report on general bills is February 23.
Education Scholarship Accounts give parents a new education option for their children. For students whose needs are not being met in public school, the ESA program allows parents to withdraw their child from public school and have the state education funds that would have been spent on the child’s behalf deposited into an ESA. The ESA funds allotted for that child can then be used for a variety of education-related expenses outside the traditional public school setting, including private school tuition, tutoring…. READ MORE
Mississippians Believe Charter Schools Should Be Available Statewide
February 18, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Legislation to expand access to charter schools in Mississippi has advanced in both the House and Senate Education Committees. This is strong legislation that will provide school choice opportunities to more students and it is also in line with what a majority of Mississippians want according to recent polling.
Voters favor charter schools by a solid 57-30 margin, with a similar majority saying they should be available statewide.
When voters were asked whether charter schools should be located in certain areas of the state, such as those in failing school districts, or throughout the entire state, 57 percent said the entire state compared to 18 percent who said just in certain areas and 17 percent who said they…. READ MORE
Charter School Legislation Clears House and Senate Education Committees
February 18, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Yesterday, both the House and Senate Education Committees passed legislation to expand charter school opportunities for students in Mississippi.
Currently, charter schools are only allowed in “D” or F” rated districts. SB 2161 would expand charter schools availability to “C” rated school districts and allow students to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Originally, HB 1044 only included the provision to cross district lines but it was amended to allow charter schools in all school districts in the state. However that amendment will likely be stripped from the bill because of technical legislative rules, and the original bill will return.
The most important improvement to the Charter School Act is to allow students to cross district lines, which both…. READ MORE
New Legislation Will Strengthen Charter Schools, Give Parents More Options
February 17, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to be more innovative and are held accountable for improved student achievement. First introduced around the country in the early 1990s, the concept was created to help improve our nation’s public education system and offer parents another option to meet their children’s needs.
Four years ago, Mississippi became the 42nd state in the nation to allow charter schools. Although it was a contentious debate, today the first two charter schools in the state have opened and virtually all of the expressed concerns never came to fruition.
The law that was passed in 2013 incorporated many of the best practices for charters from around the country, including strict standards…. READ MORE
ESA Expansion Will Save Taxpayer Dollars
February 16, 2016
A proposed expansion of the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program in Mississippi will provide parents with more options for the education of their children. And while the intent of this program is to help the children that need it the most, it will also offer a cost savings to Mississippi taxpayers.
School districts in Mississippi receive funding from three sources: state, local, and federal contributions. Of that funding, the state currently provides more than $5,100 per student in the public schools, according to the recently-released Superintendent’s Report from the Mississippi Department of Education.
The average daily attendance for 2014-2015 was 454,096 students. The total um of local, state, and federal funding for the same period was $4,486,976,232. Although the amount of funding expended per student may…. READ MORE
Mississippians Want All Students To Be Eligible For ESA’s
February 12, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Legislation that has been introduced in the House and Senate would expand education choice options for Mississippi families.
HB 943, introduced by Rep. John Moore (R-Brandon), and SB 2385, introduced by Sen. Buck Clarke (R-Hollandale), will make the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program available to most students in Mississippi.
Education Scholarship Accounts give parents a new education option for their children. For students whose needs are not being met in public school, the ESA program allows parents to withdraw their child from public school and have the state education funds that would…. READ MORE
Deadline To Introduce Bills Has Passed
February 12, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After a slow first month of the 2016 Legislative Session, lawmakers are about to get busy. The deadline to introduce bills has passed and committee chairmen are now tasked with sorting through some 3,000 or so bills. The next deadline that legislators face is February 23, when committees must report on general bills and constitutional amendments originating from their chamber.
Some of the bills that have been introduced include an expansion to the Educational Scholarship Account program and access to charter schools. Legislation has also been drafted to create a tax credit scholarship program. Bills dealing with accreditation, MAEP, and appointed superintendents have also been brought forth. As we approach.…. READ MORE
Press Release: Legislation To Expand ESA’s Introduced In House and Senate
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FEBRUARY 11, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– New legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to expand education choice options to all Mississippi families.
HB 943, introduced by Rep. John Moore (R-Brandon), and SB 2385, introduced by Sen. Buck Clarke (R-Hollandale), will make the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program available to most students in Mississippi. This program will give first preference to students with special needs and then to low income students.
“Parents know their children best,” Gov. Phil Bryant said. “And as parents, we make every decision about what’s best for our children. We choose their doctor, their babysitters, even the food that we put on the table for them, so why wouldn’t…. READ MORE
School Choice Program Design Matters
February 9, 2016
When school choice programs are well-designed, they provide parents with the options to select the best education setting for their child. Such programs produce strong educational markets that benefit students. For more than a decade, empirical studies on school choice programs have shown improvements in educational performance and results for both students and schools.
However, a recent report indicates that one of Louisiana’s school choice programs – the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) – has not performed at the levels that the state had hoped. School choice programs with design flaws will not show the same high degrees of efficacy and educational performance as well-designed programs. This program reveals the flaws that were built…. READ MORE
National Charter School Enrollment Nears 3 Million
February 8, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
A new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that charter school enrollment grew by 250,000 students during the previous school year, bringing the total number of students served by charter schools to nearly three million.
This represents an increase of more than one million students in just the past six years.
Also, 400 news schools were opened last year. This includes the first two in Mississippi. There are now more than 6,800 charter schools…. READ MORE
School Choice Programs: Slow, But Steady Growth
February 4, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
The nation’s oldest school choice program designed exclusively for students with special needs began its first year with just two students enrolled.
The John M. McKay Scholarship in Florida began in 2000 and now serves more than 30,000 students in over 1,300 different schools. That translates to a growth of more than one million percent from the first year. The program quickly grew to nearly 1,000 students in its second year and over 5,000 students the following year, and continues to see steady growth.
But can you imagine what the detractors said about enrollment the first year? Fortunately they were unsuccessful in their efforts to kill the program and as a result thousands upon thousands of students who would…. READ MORE
Education Committees Released
January 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
This week both the State Senate and House of Representatives released assignments for the membership of each committee for the next four years.
In the Senate, Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) will remain as Chairman of the Education Committee and Rep. John Moore (R-Brandon) will continue to serve as Chairman of the Education Committee in the House. Both men have been strong leaders these past four years, and both committees will have a large number of education reform and school choice supporters.
We are enthusiastic about the selections made by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn and we look forward to a great four…. READ MORE
No Correlation Between School District Size And Percentage Of Teachers
January 29, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
After reviewing the number of teachers as a percentage of the staff at public schools, we noted a direct correlation between school district achievement and the percentage of teachers they employ. The conclusion: the highest-rated school districts employ the highest percentage of teachers while the lowest-rated school districts have the lowest percentage of teachers.
We found that 52 percent of staff in “A” rated districts is made up of teachers. Just five of the 19 “A” rated districts have more non-teachers than teachers on their staff. In “B” rated districts, 49 percent of staff is teachers while that number drops to 47 percent of “C” rated districts. For “D” rated school districts, just 45 percent of the staff is teachers. And among those 39 districts, just five have more teachers than non-teachers on their staff.
But could there be other variables…. READ MORE
ICYMI: Mississippians Rally For School Choice
January 27, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Yesterday, over 500 students, parents, families, and friends gathered at the State Capitol to show their support for school choice. Here is a sampling of the news coverage from the event:
Hundreds of parents, teachers and students attended a rally Tuesday for the right to choose what school children attend. The rally at the State Capitol was held as part of National School Week.
“There are more than 115,000 students who wake up, eat breakfast and walk out that door to attend failing school districts,” Grant Callen, with Empower…. READ MORE
Mississippi School Choice Rally A Success
January 26, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Earlier today more than 500 students, parents, families, and friends gathered at the Mississippi State Capitol to show their support for providing school choice options for all students in Mississippi. Thank you to Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for headlining the rally and for all the folks that braved the nasty weather to attend.
The purpose of this rally was to highlight the successes of the past four years, including the creation of charter schools and the Educational Scholarship Account (ESA) program for students with special needs. We packed the capitol with students from the first two charter schools in the state, children that are using the special needs ESA, and others passionate about school…. READ MORE
Gov. Bryant Declares January 24-30 School Choice Week
January 25, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Gov. Phil Bryant has issued a proclamation declaring January 24-30, 2016 as “School Choice Week” in Mississippi. Gov. Bryant joins 30 other governors and 230 mayors and county leaders nationwide in issuing proclamations.
With more than 80 events being held to celebrate the Week in Mississippi alone – and with more than 16,000 independently organized events across all 50 states – National School Choice Week will be America’s largest-ever celebration of opportunity in education. Events will include rallies, round-table discussions, coffeehouse meet-ups, festivals, school fairs, and more.
Held every January, National School Choice Week is an independent public awareness effort designed to shine a positive spotlight on effective education…. READ MORE
School Choice Programs Benefit Public School Finances
January 21, 2016
A new era of universal school choice is finally dawning across the country. Parents are tired of having to settle for unsatisfactory and low-achieving schools for their children. They are tired of being constrained in their educational options by the arbitrary limitations of their zip code and family income. Families across America are coming to realize that school choice programs offer them opportunities and options that had previously seemed unattainable. Public opinion is now firmly on the side of letting parents choose the best schools for their children.
Despite this growing consensus, opponents of school choice programs persist in their attempts to spread fear among parents and the general public by falsely accusing these programs of undermining local public schools and of further restricting educational access.
The main two arguments used by opponents of school choice programs are…. READ MORE
Growth Of Non-Teachers Far Outpaces Student Enrollment
January 20, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past two decades, the non-teaching staff at public schools in Mississippi has grown rapidly while the number of students actually decreased, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Today, a little less than 33,000- or 48 percent- of the more than 68,000 employees of school districts in the state are teachers, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Education for the 2013-2014 school year. This makes Mississippi one of 21 states that employ more non-teaching personnel than classroom instructors.
From 1992 through 2009, the number of students in Mississippi public schools decreased by two percent, while the non-teaching staff increased by 24 percent. This means that Mississippi has approximately 8,000 “extra” non-teachers- everything from administrators and …. READ MORE
School Choice: A Unifying Issue
January 13, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
On the hot-button issues of the day, opinions are often sharply divided along racial lines, both in Mississippi and nationally. But one supposedly controversial issue that has broad support among both white and African American voters is school choice.
According to recent polling, 78 percent of Mississippians support giving parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.
In Mississippi, school choice is supported by 81 percent of white voters and 73 percent of African Americans; a unity we very rarely see in a state where voters are often divided. For instance, 89 percent of white voters supported…. READ MORE
Bryant: We Should Not Stand In The School House Doorway And Resist School Choice
January 12, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Governor Phil Bryant was sworn in to his second term as governor today, and delivered an inaugural address where we touched on many of his priorities, including expanding school choice options to more Mississippi families.
From Gov. Bryant’s inaugural address:
With the Special Needs and Charter Schools legislation, we have provided more choice to parents. They now have the liberty to send their children to the school where they can receive the best education and care. You see, individual liberty must exist for all our people, but they cannot be confused by the expectation of an individual or…. READ MORE
Infographic: Mississippians Support School Choice!
January 12, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
New polling shows that 78 percent of Mississippians support school choice, and the ability to give parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.
In a rare sign of unity, this issue has broad support among a wide cross section of Mississippi voters, regardless of age, race, or party affiliation.
Mississippians also believe that charter school and education scholarship accounts, currently available only in certain areas of the state or for specific populations should be available to all students.
Here is a look at the…. READ MORE
Press Release: Mississippians Overwhelmingly Support School Choice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JANUARY 11, 2016
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI– A new poll released today shows that most Mississippians want school choice.
According to the poll, 78 percent of Mississippians support giving parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.
The poll also found strong support for locating charter schools statewide, support for making educational scholarship accounts available to all students, and that voters are more likely to support a candidate for the legislature if they support school choice. In Mississippi, there is strong support…. READ MORE
Callen: Poll shows Mississippians want school choice
Grant Callen, Guest Columnist, January 10, 2016
Over the past four years, our state Legislature has adopted a handful of key reforms designed to strengthen our education system by providing students with new education options and taxpayers with more accountability and transparency. This includes the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, the Charter School Act, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act and A-F grading for all schools and school districts.
Each of these bills were met with intense opposition from the education establishment as it fought bitterly to preserve its monopoly status and to evade accountability for its performance. We heard warnings that legislators who supported these measures would be sent into early retirement. The public doesn’t want school choice, they said. Education policy debates have been some of the most contentious and difficult debates of any policy issue. One long-serving Jackson legislator even likened school choice programs.… READ MORE
Mississippi Should Move To All Appointed Superintendents
January 6, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
Rankin County is like most counties in Mississippi in that local elections are often decided in the primary. In an otherwise quiet year, the main race on the ballot was superintendent of the third largest school district in the state. As a Rankin County resident and parent of two young children, I was happy to see three unique candidates bring their own qualifications to the table. And I am confident Sue Townsend will do a great job running the school district for the next four years.
But during the course of the election I couldn’t help but think, “What are we doing electing a superintendent of education?” And, what if there is a better candidate who happens to live outside the county? And what about counties that don’t have 150,000 people to choose from?
Mississippi is one of just three remaining states that elects school superintendents. Currently, a little less…. READ MORE
2016 Rally For School Choice
January 5, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
A rally to thank legislators for creating school choice opportunities in Mississippi will be held at the State Capitol in Jackson on January 26 at 9:30 a.m. Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and additional special guests will speak at this special event during National School Choice Week. Anyone who supports empowering families with more education options is encouraged to attend.
Parents and students will also have the opportunity to visit the House and Senate chambers, and thank their individual legislators in person.
The rally in Jackson will be one of more than 15,000 events…. READ MORE
Sign The Petition: Yes, I Support Education Choice!
January 5, 2016 by Brett Kittredge
As the 2016 session begins, it is important that your legislator hears from you!
At Empower, we believe that every parent in Mississippi should have a range of high-quality education options and the ability to choose an education that they determine is right for their child, whether at a traditional public school, public charter school, or private school.
We can do this by creating or expanding current school choice programs, including public charter schools, education scholarship accounts, tax credit scholarships, course choice, and public school open enrollment. Whatever the specific proposal looks like, we believe…. READ MORE
A Look Ahead At The 2016 Session
January 4, 2016 by Grant Callen and Brett Kittredge
During the past four years, the state legislature adopted a number of student-centered education reforms designed to provide accountability, transparency, and most importantly, new education options for families.
This includes authorization of the state’s first charter schools, passage of the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, 3rdGrade Reading Gate, and an A-F grading system for all schools and school districts. This was a great start in reforming an education system that is consistently rated near the bottom nationally. And as the 2016 session begins, we are hopeful that the new legislature, with stronger pro-education reform majorities in both chambers, will expand on the successes of the past four years.
Since this is the first session after an election, it will be extended from the normal 90 days to …. READ MORE
2015: A Great Year For Children In Mississippi
December 21, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
As we prepare to close the book on 2015, we can look back on a great year for children in Mississippi that included passage of the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, the opening of the first two charter schools in the state, and the election of stronger education reform majorities in the state legislature.
After the Special Needs Bill died on the last day of the session in 2014, most did not think the legislation would be resurrected in 2015 because it was an election year. But the parents who knew how important this bill was never gave up. With phone calls, emails, letters to the editor, radio interviews, and parent forums around the state, parents of children with special needs advocated for this bill and made their voices heard.
With the strong support of Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn, the Equal Opportunity…. READ MORE
Mississippi’s Charter School Law Receives High Marks
December 16, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
A nationwide ranking of charter school policies released by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NASCA) finds Mississippi has one of the best charter school laws in the country based on authorizer quality and school accountability.
The report, “On the Road to Better Accessibility, Autonomy, and Accountability,” analyzes current charter school oversight policies from state’s across the nation. Each state is scored against eight “best practices” in state policy designed to provide a solid foundation for better accessibility, autonomy, and accountability and ensure a consistent, high-performing charter sector.
Mississippi, whose 2013 law was based on best practices in the country, ranked sixth among the 43 states with charter schools laws, receiving…. READ MORE
School Choice Creates Healthy Competition
December 14, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past several years, the North Carolina legislature has taken a number of steps to provide parents with more options in their child’s education. They have raised the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and implemented scholarships for low-income students and students with special needs. At the time, these bills were met with the typical outcry from labor unions, but these new options are working and families are better-off.
For the first time, school choice is not limited to those who can afford private school tuition. The poor and working class families now have the same education…. READ MORE
School Choice A Boon For Jackson
December 10, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
For more than a decade, cities throughout America have seen a resurgence of millennials and young professionals opting to live in urban areas rather than the suburbs as was common with previous generations. Jackson has seen a similar shift in Fondren and other areas, and yet once families have school-age children there is a mass exodus to the suburbs. Sure, some stay in Jackson and pay for private schools, but for most poor and working class families, that is cost prohibitive.
Jackson, whose population peaked in the 1980s at a little over 200,000, has seen the out-migration continue with 2014 population estimates of 171,155. This is down about 2,400 residents since the last Census in…. READ MORE
Parents Will Risk Jail Time For Their Children’s Education
December 7, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Two Washington D.C. police officers are the latest to face jail time for committing residency fraud in an effort to ensure their children receive a quality education that was not available in their assigned neighborhood public school. This is a common issue across the country, which even landed an Ohio woman in jail a couple years ago.
Kelley Williams-Bolar of Akron, Ohio was sentenced to 10 days in jail for enrolling her daughters in a highly ranked neighboring district outside of her assigned public school zone. During the sentencing, she said she “did this for them (her daughters).”
As you can imagine, this type of residency fraud is not uncommon. Parents who are trapped in failing schools…. READ MORE
Red State Or Blue State, Parents Want Good Education Options
November 23, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Last week, hundreds of parents, educators, and students in Massachusetts marched across the Boston Commons and rallied near the State House as part of an effort to increase the number of charter schools available in the state.
This comes on the heels of a proposal by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to permit 12 new or expanded charter schools each year in districts that are performing in the bottom 25 percent on standardized tests.
There are over 50,000 Massachusetts students on charter school waiting lists. Nationally, over 1 million students are on…. READ MORE
Sign The Petition: Expand The Special Needs Bill!
November 20, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
The Felder’s are just one of the many families in Mississippi who made the financial sacrifice to enroll their child with special needs in private school simply because their local public school district couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help.
As a result, they are not eligible for the Special Needs ESA because they have a private school service plan rather than a public school individualized education plan.
And while this legislation is providing a great service to many families, it should be expanded so families…. READ MORE
“I Just Couldn’t Sit Back And Let Max Fail”
November 19, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Joshua and Amanda Felder purchased their home in the working-class Lakeview neighborhood of Clinton for one primary reason: a highly-rated public school system for their children, Mia and Max. And Amanda knows the school district well; it was where she was raised, went to school, and where her family attended as well.
For her daughter Mia, the public school system is working well. She is thriving academically and athletically in their cross country and track and field programs. But for her son Max, it is a different story.
From a very early age, Joshua and Amanda noticed Max was developing at a different pace than most other children…. READ MORE
Feedback Wanted: The Status Of Education In Mississippi
November 16, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past several months, Mississippi has had a rigorous debate about the status of K-12 education in Mississippi. This is a good thing and we anticipate the discussion will continue into the New Year when the legislature convenes in January.
Now, we want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on education in Mississippi? What schools offer children the best education? Please take our two minute survey below and be entered to win one of two $50 gift cards to iTunes. We will draw two names at random from those who complete the survey on November…. READ MORE
It’s Not How Much You Spend, It’s How You Spend It
November 11, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past several months, Mississippi has had a rigorous debate about public education, including appropriate levels of state spending and who should be making those decisions. This is a good thing, and one that should carry over when the new legislature convenes in January.
Proponents of Initiative 42 argued that the state needs to spend more on education; that schools are not receiving enough money from taxpayers and this is the cause of our public education woes. And while this may make a great bumper sticker, simply “throwing more money at education” has never worked, either in Mississippi or nationally, even though it has been tried for…. READ MORE
Vote: Appointed or Elected School Superintendents?
November 9, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Mississippi is one of just three states that elects school superintendents. Currently, a little less than half of our superintendents are elected, while the rest are appointed by the local school board- as is common through most of the country.
This issue has been brought up in the legislature over the past several years, generally failing in the House after passing the Senate. We anticipate legislation will be revived after the new legislature convenes in January. These proposals have varied, but the intent was to move toward all appointed superintendents and all elected school boards.
Some argue that elected superintendents bring more accountability and transparency to the process…. READ MORE
Kittredge: Special Needs Act Changing Lives
Brett Kittredge, Guest Columnist, November 6 2015
In 2014, the Clarion-Ledger exposed the fact that just 23 percent of students with special needs graduate from high school in Mississippi. And for many school districts, that number is in the single digits.
These heartbreaking numbers showed something needed to be done to give parents more options. And thankfully, the Legislature responded. In 2015, with the strong leadership and backing of Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, the state Legislature passed the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.
Under the new law, parents of children with special needs have the option of withdrawing their child from a public school and receiving an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) of $6,500 to help pay…. READ MORE
Student Centered Education Reform Is A Winning Issue
November 5, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past four years, Mississippi has enacted a number of student-centered education reforms that have empowered parents with new education options for their children. These reforms, including A-F grading of school districts, third-grade reading gate, charter schools, and the education scholarship account program for students with special needs, are working and changing lives.
With the education status quo fighting many of these changes, the Empower PAC is designed to support candidates who took these often difficult votes- as well as to support challengers against those who have not stood up.… READ MORE
Initiative 42 Defeated
November 4, 2015 by Grant Callen
Last night was Waterloo for the education status quo in Mississippi, a powerful statement that the voters of Mississippi support the bold education reforms of these last four years and do not want to go backwards.
These last six months, Mississippi has had a robust statewide debate about how to solve our woefully underperforming public education system. The citizens were presented with two visions for how we improve Mississippi’s education system, and the contrast could not be more stark. Proponents of Initiative 42 traveled the state making the case that more money is the solution to our education woes. The leaders in this movement demonized Mississippi’s elected leaders and argued that education funding and policymaking authority should be taken away from them.
On the other side, policymakers, led by.… READ MORE
Callen: Our Education Problems Won’t Be Solved With More Money
October 28, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Empower President Grant Callen recently spoke with The Seventy Four about Initiative 42, and how it will negatively impact our state.
Grant Callen, founder and president of the school choice advocacy group Empower Mississippi, said his organization is working to steer voters away from both amendments. While he called Initiative 42A unnecessary, he said Initiative 42 would put too much power in the hands of the state Chancery Court, which hears all lawsuits filed against the state.
Even though the Chancery Court’s ruling — regardless of outcome — would likely be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, Callen said it would be “a disaster” if decisions about school funding were given.… READ MORE
D.C. Scholarship Program A Success Story
October 27, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Last week, the United States House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act in a 240-191 vote. Mississippi Congressmen Gregg Harper, Trent Kelly, and Steven Palazzo all supported this legislation while Rep. Bennie Thompson voted against it.Under this program, low-income students in Washington D.C., usually stuck in failing public schools, can receive scholarships to attend the private school of their choice. It is the only federal education choice program in the country.
It was created in 2003, and previously reauthorized in 2011. This will reauthorize the program through.… READ MORE
Has Education Choice Been Tried Anywhere Else?
October 22, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Over the past four years, the Mississippi legislature has adopted a variety of education choice policies that give parents new options for the education of their children. While these new programs will benefit families, one of the arguments regularly made by the education status quo is that these programs are “too new” or they “haven’t been tested.”
Is that true? Are we really experimenting with the children of Mississippi? Absolutely not! Currently, there are 45 states that authorize some form of education.… READ MORE
Top 10 Reasons To Oppose Initiative 42
October 21, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
By now you’ve seen the TV Ads, heard the radio spots, and scrolled through countless social media posts about Initiative 42. The election is less than two weeks away and the stakes for Mississippi could not be higher. Before you go to the polls we wanted to remind you of the top 10 reasons to oppose Initiative 42:
1. One judge. Initiative 42 turns the education funding and policy making decisions over to one unaccountable judge in Hinds county.
2. Taxation without representation. Your voice as a citizen, through your elected legislators, is eliminated and replaced with a judge you will likely never vote.… READ MORE
Families Want More Educational Opportunities
October 15, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
While national polling consistently indicates that voters support education choice options, it is the waiting lists and yearly increases in enrollment that paint the true picture and show the obvious: parents want more options in their child’s education.
In Florida, the state with the largest private school choice programs in the country, enrollment in these programs has doubled in the past five years. In 2011, there were 56,748 students enrolled in private school choice programs. Today, there are nearly 110,000.
Enrollment is broken down as follows: More than 77,000 low-income students receive tax credit scholarships, more than.… READ MORE
Education Choice Unifies Republican Presidential Candidates
October 12, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
What if there was one issue that could unite a Baptist minister turned governor with a former Fortune 500 CEO or one of the Senate’s leading libertarians with one of the Tea Party’s strongest allies in the Senate?
There is. Every single major Republican candidate for President supports education choice.
Currently there are 15 major Republican candidates still running for President and there is quite a contrast between them. Each has his or her vision for how best to grow our economy and how to strengthen our national security, and everything in between. In fact, they disagree on almost everything, but you will find little to no.… READ MORE
What Is Initiative 42?
October 7, 2015 by Grant Callen
In the words of Vice President Joe Biden, Initiative 42 is a “big deal.” Initiative 42 would make permanent changes to the way education funding and policy making decisions are made by shifting power away from the legislature to the courts. And unlike a bill or statute that the legislature passes, which can always be amended or repealed in subsequent years, a Constitutional amendment is virtually unchangeable.
Here is the current provision for public education in the Constitution:
SECTION 201. The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and.… READ MORE
That was the reaction from Marianne Machost when she learned about the Education Scholarship Account program for students with special needs.
Marianne, and her husband Noel, obtained custody of two nieces nearly a decade ago. One child is going deaf in both ears, is developmentally delayed, and is at a 2nd grade level academically even though she is in 5th grade. The other child suffers from behavioral issues stemming from physical and mental abuse she received as a…. READ MORE
Lawsuits Put Children At Risk
September 24, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Education choice continues to spread, with 43 states now authorizing charter schools and 28 offering private school choice programs. Across the country, students have more access to educational opportunities than ever before. As a result, many parents are now able to find the education setting that is the best fit for their child.
And while these programs continue to benefit children, the education establishment continues to take their fight to the…. READ MORE
Legislation advancing education choice tears down barriers and empowers parents with the ability to choose an education that they determine is right for their child, whether at a traditional public school, charter school, or private school.
We believe that education funds should…. READ MORE
Vote Against Both: Initiative 42 and Initiative 42A Analysis
September 10, 2015 by Grant Callen
This week, the State Board of Election Commissioners released the official ballot for the November general elections, including two proposed Constitutional amendments, Initiative 42 and Alternative 42A.
A copy of the ballot, which includes the fiscal analysis provided by the Legislative Budget Office, can be found here.
When voting, the first question voters will see is whether they want to approve either of the initiatives or if they want to vote against both. We recommend you choose to vote…. READ MORE
Charter School Movement Continues To Grow In Mississippi
September 3, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
This week, the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board voted to approve two new charter schools to open in Jackson next year. This will give the city of Jackson four charter schools at that time.
Both schools will be run by RePublic Schools, the same group that opened Reimagine Prep in south Jackson this year. Both of these new schools will be located on the site of the former Broadmoor Baptist Church in north Jackson. Joel E. Smilow Collegiate will eventually serve grades K-8 while Joel E. Smilow Prep will eventually…. READ MORE
Education Analysis: Do Results Follow Spending?
August 24, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Each year, there is considerable debate in Jackson about how much Mississippi should spend on education. Since we regularly find Mississippi at the bottom of most K-12 rankings, there is a belief among some that if Mississippi would spend more money, we would see better results in the classrooms.
This fall, a proposed Constitutional amendment will be on the ballot, which supporters believe will force the legislature to spend more state dollars on education and empower a Hinds County judge with… READ MORE
First Charter Schools Open In Mississippi
August 19, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
The first two public charter schools in Mississippi opened this year in Jackson, and yesterday Reimagine Prep held an open house where Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves joined with school leaders and parents in celebrating the new school. An additional school, Midtown Public Charter School, is also open for students in the Jackson Public School District.
Three additional charter schools may open in 2016, including two additional schools in Jackson and one in Natchez. We are excited for this growing movement where parents will have more options… READ MORE
Callen: Tunica shows money won’t solve education woes
Grant Callen, Guest Columnist, August 9, 2015
Gov. Phil Bryant signed an emergency declaration for the Tunica County School District, allowing the Mississippi Board of Education to take over the district, abolish the existing school board and superintendent, and implement corrective actions. The failures in this Delta school district extend beyond academics, would repulse any parent, and are heartbreaking for the children involved.
In one of the poorest regions of the nation, the Tunica County School District spends $11,471 per student per year. That is almost $2,500 more per student… READ MORE
ICYMI: Four Incumbents In Desoto County Defeated
August 6, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
“Tectonic shift.” “Huge earthquake.” “New faces.” That is some of what the press is saying after four Empower PAC backed candidates defeated anti-school choice incumbent legislators in Desoto County:
Four DeSoto County House Republican incumbents targeted by a pro-school choice group because of opposition to charter schools are among at least nine incumbents who lost party primaries Tuesday.
The DeSoto County challengers were financially supported by Empower Mississippi, motivated by what the group saw as… READ MORE
A Great Night For School Choice In Mississippi
August 5, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Last night, four legislative incumbents in Desoto County who were aligned with the education status quo and fought against student-centered education reforms fell to conservative challengers supported by Empower PAC. This is a significant win for children and families who are desperate for more education options.
All totaled, Empower supported 18 candidates with primary opponents. Thirteen of those candidates won with two additional races headed for… READ MORE
Apply Now For The Education Scholarship Account
June 29, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has released the application for the Education Scholarship Account program for students with special needs. The initial application process begins on July 1.
Once the enrollment rate has reached 50 percent of the available ESAs, all approved applications will be placed on a waiting list and MDE will determine a deadline for a random selection process for the remaining scholarships.
To have the best opportunity to receive a scholarship in the first year, fill out… READ MORE
ESA Application Now Available
June 18, 2015 by Grant Callen
The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has released the application for the Education Scholarship Account program for students with special needs. We are grateful that MDE has posted the application early so parents will have extra time to prepare their application before July.
Special Needs ESA Application Process Released
June 9, 2015 by Grant Callen
Empower Mississippi had the opportunity to review the proposed application documents created by MDE. We engaged a few parents of students with special needs to help us review the documents and recommend improvements to the department. Working with a coalition of partner organizations and parents, we submitted our feedback to MDE. Very few (if any) of our recommendations were implemented in this process.
Below is a list of our major concerns with the application process that MDE created. We have additional suggestions for improvement, but these items are the most egregious. These items can be rectified simply and we encourage MDE… READ MORE
Press Release: Special Needs ESA Bill Signed Into Law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 16, 2015
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI – Today, Governor Phil Bryant signed into law Senate Bill 2695, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act. Gov. Bryant was joined by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and dozens of special needs families for the signing ceremony at the State Capitol.
“This bill represents a dramatic leap forward in the way we educate students with special needs, and more broadly, the way we think about public education in Mississippi,” said Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi. “In this age of innovation and personalization, why not allow parents the freedom to customize an education that they determine is right for their child? This bill does just that; it declares that parents know their children best and it empowers them to meet the individual educational needs of their…READ MORE
Four Years Of Student-Centered Education Reform
April 9, 2015 by Grant Callen and Brett Kittredge
Imagine if you were boarding an airplane and the captain said that only 75 percent of the passengers would arrive safely. As for the poor travelers, that number would drop to 50 percent. And if you had a disability, you would board a different, poorly maintained plane, and not even a quarter of those passengers would arrive safely.
If this was the status quo for air travel, we would demand change. Yet sadly, this has been the education status quo in Mississippi for decades. And yet, until recently, critically-needed, student-centered reforms were stalled. Even under the strong leadership of then Governor Haley Barbour and then Lt. Governor Phil Bryant… READ MORE
Special Needs ESA Bill Headed To Governor
March 26, 2015 by Grant Callen
Today, by a vote of 30-18, the Mississippi Senate voted to concur (agree) with the House of Representatives on Senate Bill 2695, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act. At long last, this bill is headed to the Governor for his signature.
Under the new law, parents of children with special needs will have the option of withdrawing their child from a public school and receiving an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) of $6,500 to help pay for expenses outside the… READ MORE
Tax Cuts Would Have Helped Mississippians Thrive
March 20, 2015 by Grant Callen and Brett Kittredge
At Empower, our mission is, “To empower citizens to advocate for policies that help people thrive.” We want to make Mississippi the most free and prosperous state in the nation, not just so we can celebrate our national rankings, but because we want to see Mississippians – at all socio-economic levels and in every corner of the state – flourish.
This is why education choice has been, and remains, such an important issue for us. Every child in Mississippi should have quality education options. Every parent should have confidence that their child is learning in a setting… READ MORE
Update On Special Needs Bill
March 19, 2015 by Grant Callen
Last week, Senate Bill 2695, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, passed the House of Representatives with a strong bi-partisan majority. You can find a roll call of the vote here.
Individual calls and e-mails made a huge impact on the final vote and we thank everyone for their efforts. SB 2695 now sits… READ MORE
“This is a great day for children with special needs,” Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen said. “For decades, Mississippi children with special needs have been waiting for their educational needs to be met. This ESA pilot program is a tremendous step towards ensuring that parents have the ability to customize an education to meet the unique needs of their children. I thank… READ MORE
Clarion-Ledger Endorses Special Needs Bill
March 5, 2015 by Grant Callen
Nearly one year has passed since the Legislature killed a measure providing thousands of dollars to parents of special-needs public school children for educational services outside the district.
The measure, called the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, is before the Legislature again this year. It currently awaits a vote on the House floor, where it must pass by March 17 or join its previous version in the political… READ MORE
Graduation Rates For Students with Special Needs
March 3, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
In 2014, the Clarion-Ledger exposed the fact that only 23 percent of Mississippi students with special needs ever graduate from high school. However, the truth is many school districts across the state are doing much worse than 23 percent.
We have compiled a list of the graduation rate from 2012-2013 of each school district for all students and students with special needs. The graduation rate for students with special needs varies greatly from as low as 1.2 percent to as high as… READ MORE
26 Accountability Measures In The Special Needs Bill
March 3, 2015 by Grant Callen and Brett Kittredge
Senate Bill 2695, The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, creates a pilot program to give parents the option of withdrawing their child from a public school and receiving an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) with $6,500 to help pay for educational expenses outside the traditional public school. Funds would be distributed through a debit card and used for private school tuition, educational therapies, and tutoring.
SB 2695 has twenty-six (26) separate ACCOUNTABILITY measures to ensure that taxpayer funds… READ MORE
2015 Legislative Candidates
February 28, 2015 by Brett Kittredge
Every four years, Mississippi citizens have the opportunity to reelect or retire their legislators. To look up your legislators and see how they scored on our education choice scorecard, click here.
February 27 was the qualifying deadline for this fall’s elections, including State House and State Senate races. Below is a list of all legislative…. READ MORE
House Education Committee Passes Special Needs ESA Bill
February 26, 2015 by Grant Callen
Today, the Education Committee in the House of Representatives passed The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act (SB 2695) on a voice vote. The bill’s lead author, Representative Carolyn Crawford (R-Pass Christian), carried this bill in committee and it now heads to the full chamber for a vote.
The committee voted to insert the original House language into SB 2695. The two changes from the Senate bill are… READ MORE
Vote: Which Tax Cut Proposal Do You Support?
February 24, 2015 by Grant Callen
Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn, have each announced proposals to cut taxes and provide much needed relief for families and businesses in Mississippi. We wholeheartedly support reducing the tax burden on Mississippians and we applaud these leaders for their bold initiatives.
As state tax revenues have climbed in recent years, virtually every state agency has requested an increase to their budget. But we believe… READ MORE
Press Release: Empower Mississippi Names New Communications Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FEBRUARY 19, 2015
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI – Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen announced today that Brett Kittredge has been named Director of Communications.
“Brett has been active in the conservative movement for years and we are extremely pleased he is joining the Empower team,” Callen said. “He brings a breadth of communications experience that will help us expand our reach and advocate for education choice, economic freedom, and…READ MORE
“My Ian Can’t Wait”
Guest Blog By: Katie McCustion, February 18, 2015
Mississippi faces a lot of challenges. Our education and economy consistently rank among the lowest in the nation. But I sincerely believe our state can overcome this. And I believe, without regard to any political views whatsoever, that it starts with education.
My eight-year-old son Ian entered public school in kindergarten in 2012. After just two weeks, his teacher told us that he was significantly behind his classmates. He was labeled “developmentally delayed” by the district dyslexia coordinator, but by Christmas, we began to consider the possibility that Ian might actually be dyslexic, despite what the coordinator claimed…READ MORE
Senate Passes Special Needs ESA Bill
February 11, 2015 by Grant Callen
Today, by a bipartisan vote of 27-21, the Mississippi Senate passed The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act (SB 2695). It now heads to the House of Representatives.
Senator Nancy Collins (R-tupelo) opened the floor debate by describing the bill and the 63,000 children…READ MORE
A Summary of HB 394
January 21, 2015 by Grant Callen
Under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) all Mississippi children are guaranteed the right to have their unique educational needs met, regardless of the severity of their disability. The problem is, if a public school does not provide the educational services guaranteed to a student, parents only have two options: 1.) they can engage in dispute resolution against the district, which usually leads to a legal fight, or 2.) they can settle…READ MORE
Press Release: Special Needs Bill Introduced
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JANUARY 19, 2015
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI – Empower Mississippi President, Grant Callen, issued the following statement on the filing of the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act by Mississippi Representative Carolyn Crawford and Senator Nancy Collins.
This legislation (HB 394) would create a pilot program providing parents of students with special needs the option of withdrawing their child from a public school and receiving an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) with funds to help pay for educational expenses outside the traditional public school. Funds would be distributed through a debit card and used for…READ MORE
Initiative 42 vs. The Alternative
January 18, 2015 by Grant Callen
Lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the second week of the session on Monday as cold temperatures and overcast skies covered Jackson. Construction crews are in the middle of a two-year, $6.9 million project to make much-needed repairs to the 110 year old State Capitol Building. This is the first time in 30 years that our Capitol, a nationally registered historic place, will be fully restored.
“The Futures of My Daughters Are Too Precious to Waste”
Guest Blog By: Sheila Cargile, January 14, 2015
If you knew your local public school had no intention of meeting the needs of your child, what would you do? When I had this realization, I decided to advocate for change. Not just at the local level, but state-wide change.
I am a Mississippi mother of two students with special needs. My daughters – Emily, age nine, and Audrey, age six – both wear hearing aids because of hearing loss.
Because my girls were both diagnosed early…READ MORE
Empower PAC, Common Core, Bad Bills, and More
January 11, 2015 by Grant Callen
The 2015 Legislative Session kicked off this week as lawmakers made their way back to Jackson for the final three-month session before voters go to the polls later this year. All 174 members, along with the Governor and Lt. Governor, are up for re-election. The primary election is August 4th and the general election is on November 3rd.
To run for office this year, candidates must file their paperwork before 5:00 PM on February 27th. Many incumbent legislators…READ MORE
Mississippi Mother Believes Her Special Needs Sons Can Learn and Succeed
Guest Blog By: Debra Dye, DeSoto County Parent, January 6, 2015
My sons are intelligent, curious and creative. Their dyslexia does not define their abilities or their dreams. But sadly, not every child has the same opportunity to be as successful as possible in education and in life. The largest achievement gap in America exists between children with disabilities and their peers without disabilities.
In Mississippi, only 23 percent of students with a disability earn a high school diploma, according to a 2014 series published by The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi. As a taxpayer, this is irritating. As a parent, it is heartbreaking…READ MORE
2015 Legislative Preview
December 27, 2014 by Grant Callen and Ray Nothstine
On January 6th, the 2015 Legislative Session will begin. Next year is a major election year where every member of the legislature and all statewide office holders (including the Governor and Lt. Governor) will be on the ballot. Typically in election years, legislative leaders try to avoid controversial issues, but this year may be different. It appears there could be a number of politically charged issues debated this session, and that’s a good thing. The citizens of Mississippi have one more session to evaluate their legislators before they go to the polls to reelect or retire them. As you consider your legislators’ voting record, here are three issues to watch that are likely to come up this session…READ MORE
Callen: More money is not answer to fixing education
Grant Callen, Guest columnist, October 25, 2014
Mississippi is on top of the college football world. This historic accomplishment has generated tremendous publicity for Mississippi, even in areas unrelated to football. As a lifelong Mississippian, I can attest there is much to celebrate here. For my three children, my wife and me, Mississippi is the best place in the world to live and raise a family. However, we have major challenges…READ MORE
Empower Mississippi Releases Education Choice Scorecard
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI – Empower Mississippi, a new grassroots advocacy organization, released the first ever Education Choice Scorecard in the state of Mississippi. Education choice policies empower parents with the ability to choose an education that they determine is right for their child, whether at a traditional public school, charter school, or private school. The scorecard grades Mississippi legislators on key votes… READ MORE