When the Mississippi legislature expands school choice options, will existing private schools have room for new students? And do they want to serve additional students?
Earlier this year, Empower Mississippi conducted a survey called Exploring Mississippi’s Private Education Sector to answer those questions and more.
What Do Private Schools Think About School Choice?
Before passage of the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) there were warnings that private schools don’t serve students with special needs and have no interest in school choice. That myth was quickly dispelled once the ESA program began. The Mississippi Department of Education reports that 80 private schools enrolled at least one student who was receiving the ESA during the previous school year, and this survey found that 70 percent of private schools serve students with special needs.
When school choice is expanded, even more schools will participate. We asked schools about both vouchers, where schools receive funding directly from the state, and tax credit scholarships, where schools receive funding from a non-profit scholarship granting organization, to test the different programs. The results weren’t that much different.
Sixty-four percent of respondents said they probably or definitely would participate in a voucher program (while just nine percent said they probably or definitely would not) and 67 percent of respondents said they probably or definitely would participate in a tax-credit scholarship program (with just seven percent saying they probably would not).
Do Private Schools Have Room For More Students?
So private schools support school choice and are interested in participating, but can they accommodate more students? According to our study, there are approximately 10,000 open seats in private school today. These are seats that would be available the day after a bill passed.
Private schools know about school choice, are interested in participating in a larger program, and have the capacity to serve students tomorrow. It is clear that when the legislature expands school choice, many more students will benefit immediately.