2020 School Choice Celebration Transcript


NOTE: These are the remarks given by Grant Callen at the National School Choice Celebration held at the Mississippi State Capitol on January 28, 2020.


Thank you, what an exciting day to be at your state capitol. So why are we here? What’s the point of these yellow scarves?

We’re here to celebrate school choice, the notion that every student is unique, that one size does not fit all, that parents know their kids best, and must have the freedom to match them with the best school for their needs. Today we celebrate every choice: some choose public schools, some choose private schools, some choose charter schools, magnets, or choose to home school. What matters most is not what type of school each family chooses, but that we give every student the opportunity to succeed. That’s what this event is all about.

Nearly a decade ago I got to know a lady named Cynthia, who lived in Canton, MS. Cynthia was a single mother to Will, a 5th grader in Canton public schools. Will was a hard-working student with big dreams of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. But Canton is an F-rated district, and as Cynthia told me, drugs and violence made getting a great education nearly impossible for Will.

What’s worse, each day on her way to work Cynthia drove past the great schools in Madison that she wanted Will to attend. She tried moving but could not afford a home in Madison. She tried a district transfer, but the school boards wouldn’t approve it. She even looked at Canton Academy but could not afford the tuition. So Cynthia felt utterly trapped with no way to help her son, and was watching him fall further and further behind.

Over the years, I lost track of Cynthia and Will, but their story never left me because it so exemplifies the struggle of parents all over Mississippi who similarly feel trapped with limited or no education options.

Last year I called Cynthia to get an update on Will. The I’m good news is Will graduated high school in May, scored a strong score on the ACT, and is still headed toward a career in medicine. The bad news is the school choice policies that Will needed were never available to him in Canton. Determined to keep her son from failure, Cynthia sent Will to live with his father for high school in Madison. As a mother she had to make the unimaginable decision of sending her son away so he would have a chance at better education. So, Will got out, but countless others weren’t so lucky.

All children are unique, not just those born into wealthy families. All children deserve access to a great education, not just those born into the right zip codes. It’s unconscionable that a child born on one side of the street should have access to a great education and a child born on the other side would not.

Thankfully, we have made progress. Our lawmakers have begun to create education options and you all are evidence of that! Charter schools, dyslexia scholarships, magnet schools, and education scholarship accounts have opened doors of opportunity for children across

Mississippi to attend schools that meet their unique educational needs.

And our traditional public schools are also making progress. This year,

Mississippi showed more achievement growth on the Nations Report Card than any other state in the nation. And for the first time in our history, our 4thgrade reading scores passed the national average. A bunch of you kids must have fallen in love with reading!!

Anybody love to read?!

But for all our progress, there are still 100,000 students in failing districts. And for the thousands of families who don’t live near a charter school or the hundreds of families waitlisted by our ESA program, opportunity hasn’t come fast enough.

This is our 5th year in a row to host this event and it’s always the most positive and diverse event at the Capitol. This is not a Democrat event and this not a Republican event, this is Mississippi event, bringing people together from all political persuasions to celebrate where we agree, and we agree that all kids deserve the freedom to choose where they go to school.

But some have said this event is divisive. Some have said these yellow scarves symbolize a disdain for public education. So let me be clear: These comments could not be further from the truth.

We absolutely support public school and I’m thankful so many

Mississippians have found a great education in traditional public schools. We have public schools all over the state where children are learning and are having a wonderful educational experience. At Empower, we simply believe in trying to lift those schools that are struggling and support the teachers who have dedicated their lives to this work. And when any school—public or private—is not allowing students to thrive we believe students deserve the right to find a school that will.

So to the policymakers I say: Thank you for what you’ve done, but we must do more.

To every student, parent, or teacher who showed up today…Thank you.

I’ve gotten to know many of you parents and teachers over the years and

I know this is hard for you. You don’t feel like political advocates. You don’t seek the spotlight and would much prefer to stay behind the scenes.

But your voices have power…so much more so than the lobbyists who work the halls of this building. Your voices have power precisely because you aren’t paid to do this work, you speak from the heart. When you stand up for your children and grandchildren these lawmakers take notice and change is coming.

As someone once said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thank you for showing up, thank you for joining your voices together, thank you for your courage. This is how change happens.

God bless you all.