What is Education Freedom?
Within the last year, more than 10 states have chosen to empower parents with more education freedom, and states like Texas and North Carolina, appear poised to follow suit in the coming months.
Education freedom is a concept that refers to the ability of parents to select the best educational opportunity 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.
“But what does education freedom look like?” You might ask. “What are specific policies that Mississippi can adopt that support education freedom?”
I’m glad you asked.
Education freedom policies empower parents to make educational decisions that are in the best interest of their children. Such policies vary by state, but among the options are:
Private school access
Education savings accounts (ESAs), tuition tax credits, scholarships, and vouchers have been widely used to offer parents the financial resources to assist with private school tuition. In addition to tuition, ESAs also offer other options to parents, allowing them to allocate money as they see fit for qualified education expenses like tutoring, nationally norm-referenced testing, educational therapies, online learning, and, in some cases, transportation.
Public school access
States have adopted many different policies that support more public school opportunities.
One such policy, known as open enrollment, allows students to transfer to a school other than the one to which they are assigned. If the school the student chooses is in a different district, there must be space to accommodate them. In Mississippi, students currently may transfer between school districts only if approved by the school boards of the district where they live and the district they wish to attend. The receiving district may charge tuition to do so. True open enrollment offers students more tuition-free options to attend a public school of their choosing.
Charter schools offer another public education option. These are tuition-free, publicly funded schools that are regulated but not run by the government that are open to all students in the areas they serve. In Mississippi, charter schools may only open in D– or F-rated school districts without local school board approval. Students from C-rated districts may cross district lines to attend a charter school. Removing legislative restrictions on charter school locations would offer more opportunities for Mississippi students.
Magnet schools, microschools, homeschool, virtual schools, and other education alternatives
Policies that support alternative education options are a critical part of education freedom. While public schools, charter schools, and private schools offer parents options, even those may not best meet the individual needs of some parents and students. In fact, more Mississippians are homeschooling today than at any point in recent history. Mississippi should ensure its policies are minimally restrictive and empower parents and students to pursue these options.
Public education funding
Public education funding must also be revised to support more education freedom. Education freedom gives parents and students more options by ensuring they have the ability to access those options. This means public education funding should follow students to the place of learning that best meets their needs, rather than being earmarked for a particular school or institution simply because of geography. Mississippi’s current education funding formula does not support this.
Each of the policies above offers parents and students more opportunities, and education freedom is bigger than any single one of them. Instead, education freedom supports offering parents and students as many quality options as possible.
These are very basic descriptions of education freedom policies that Mississippi should consider in the next legislative session, and each comes with challenges and concerns that must be – and can be – addressed along the way. However, Mississippi should embrace an education system that focuses on individual student needs, prepares students for life after graduation, and empowers parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children.