5 ways to expand school choice in Mississippi

A year after West Virginia adopted the most expansive school choice program in the nation, Arizona – which has been a longtime leader in school choice – followed suit.

The landmark legislation recently signed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ensures that all K-12 students in the state have access to scholarship funds to access the education that best fits their unique needs. After nearly 30 years of slow, incremental growth of school choice policies across the nation, the pace of change is growing fast.

My colleague Russ Latino recently visited with Dave Elliott at WLOX to talk about school choice, how it empowers parents and teachers, and how Mississippi has never made a serious effort at having education dollars follow students.

People often assume that because Mississippi is a deep red state, school choice options would be plentiful. But that’s not the case. Mississippi does have some charter schools and three tiny private choice programs, but for most Mississippi families, the ability to choose their school is still out of reach – including the ability to choose a public school other than the one they are assigned to.

For lawmakers looking to move the needle on school choice, here are five ways to expand school choice in Mississippi:

1) Open district transfers: Right now if you want to transfer from one school district to another, you need permission from the district you would like to attend and your home district. This means permission is often blocked by the sending district and your choice is stymied if you don’t have the money to move. If space is available, students should be able to transfer to the district of their choosing.

2) Expand ESAs: Mississippi was an early adopter of the education scholarship program for students with special needs, but it is limited. This program should be expanded so all families can choose the right educational setting for their child, as they can in West Virginia and Arizona.

3) Expand Charter Schools: Charter schools are providing a great option for many children, but they are limited in where they can be created, based on the performance of a district. Even in highly rated districts, there are often underperforming schools. And more importantly, some students learn better in settings that are smaller or that have a particular academic approach that a charter school offers. Charter schools should be made accessible to every part of the state so parents, and not the state, can decide the right setting for their child.

4) Expand Dyslexia Vouchers: Mississippi has a voucher program for students with dyslexia, and it works very well, but because a participating private school must be accredited by the state, only a couple schools are eligible, greatly limiting parental options. In extreme circumstances, we’ve heard stories of families who moved across the state just to attend a school. This program should be available to all private schools that provide dyslexia services.

5) Expand Digital Learning: Mississippi’s current digital options in public schools are limited in what is available and who can participate. This particularly impacts those in high poverty or rural areas where finding teachers in specific fields is extremely difficult. No child should be prevented from obtaining a quality education because of where they live. Digital learning opens a world of options, but it’s not available in large numbers in Mississippi.

Do you support education freedom for families in Mississippi?