Let Education Freedom Ring
This July 4th, our country celebrates 247 years of freedom. The ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity that were enshrined in our nation’s founding documents have served as a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations of Americans and people the world over.
As we reflect on the concept of freedom and those we are afforded today, it is time for Mississippi to talk about education freedom.
Education freedom refers to the ability of parents to select the best education options for their children. It recognizes that all children are unique, full of potential, and deserving of a high-quality education that meets their individual needs and prepares them well for life.
Much bigger than one specific policy proposal, education freedom is a concept that encompasses several key principles:
- Empowering parents to choose from a range of education options for their children. This may include traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, micro-schools, online learning, or other innovative models.
- Promoting equal access to education opportunities, ensuring that individuals from different backgrounds and locations can choose the education options that best suit their needs.
- Celebrating the reality that all children are unique. Education freedom supports the idea that education should be tailored to the individual student’s needs and interests. To that end, education freedom empowers teachers, parents, and students to make decisions about curriculum, teaching methods, and education goals that best fit the needs of the student.
- Encouraging the exploration and development of innovative teaching methods, technologies, and approaches to enhancing the quality of education. Education freedom supports experimentation and adaptation to best prepare students for the changing demands of society.
Mississippi’s current education system allows only very limited freedom. Students are mostly confined to a government-run public school based solely on where they live. This often keeps the most socio-economically challenged students out of high-performing public schools. Students can cross district lines only if their assigned school board and the school board of the district they wish to attend approve the transfer, often using what appear to be arbitrary criteria. Additionally, students wishing to transfer to a different public school district may be charged tuition. Certainly, families may move to higher-performing public school districts but only if they can afford to do so. Public charter schools, which are tuition-free alternatives to traditional public schools, are relegated to D and F school districts. And the only students who can attend private or religious schools are those who can afford it or who qualify for an Education Scholarship Account because of a disability.
For many Mississippi parents, there is only one option for their child’s education regardless of whether that school is able to adequately meet the specific needs of their child.
If you need additional reasons to support more education freedom in Mississippi, consider these. Evidence suggests education freedom improves academic outcomes, is associated with higher levels of parental satisfaction, and yields economic benefits for both individuals and societies. It fosters innovation and encourages accountability and efficiency in the education system. It breaks down government-imposed restrictions on education options.
And despite concerns that education freedom policies would harm traditional public schools, research suggests that giving parents more options positively affects test scores of students who choose to remain in those schools.
While education freedom is bigger than one policy, several states have enacted different policies supporting this ideal. For example, education savings accounts (ESAs) and tuition tax credits offer students financial resources to assist with private school tuition. ESAs also offer flexibility, empowering parents by providing the financial means to pay for tutoring, nationally norm-referenced testing, educational therapies, online learning, and transportation. Open enrollment allows students to cross district lines and attend a different public school than their assigned one. Policies that allow charter schools to open in higher-performing districts offer parents and students more options.
Imagine an education system that prioritizes the needs of the individual student. Imagine a system that promotes lifelong success rather than standardized test scores. Imagine a system that encourages competition and gives parents more options.
Other states have already recognized the value of empowering parents, students, and teachers with education freedom. Just within the past year, ten states, including our neighbor Arkansas, have expanded educational freedoms and increased opportunities for students, and similar efforts are gaining ground in states like Texas and North Carolina.
Mississippi should follow suit.