Tuesday, June 4, 2024

MCPP: How to Make School Choice Happen in Mississippi

A school choice revolution is sweeping America. Mississippi is now sandwiched on either side by states that give families control over their child’s share of state education dollars.

In Arkansas and Alabama, the state government will pay between $7,000 - $9,000 into a dedicated Education Savings Account for each individual child.  Mom & dad will then be able to allocate that money to a school that best meets the needs of their child.  Almost of dozen states have done something similar, but not Mississippi. Why? Despite having a solid Republican majority for over a decade, Mississippi has made ridiculously little progress towards school choice.

Right now our state has a total of nine Charter Schools, less than 0.8 percent of the total, and fewer than one might find in a single suburb of New Orleans.  Our school choice program for Special Needs students has hardly grown at all. 

According to one of the leading figures of the school choice movement, Corey DeAngelis, whose new book “The Parent Revolution” has just been released, covid lockdowns were the great catalyst for change in other states.

Before covid, many parents meekly assumed that education meant sending their kids to whichever government school people in their zip code were assigned. Along came the lockdowns, and millions of Americans got to see how many government schools are run in the interests of teacher unions and school board bureaucrats, rather than their kids.  Teacher Unions were quick to call for schools to be closed, and fought to keep things that way.  They attacked suggestions schools reopen as “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny”. The vice president of the Chicago Teacher Union attacked proposals to return to in-person teaching - while on vacation in Puerto Rico!  

So why didn’t covid lockdowns help shake things up in our state? Lots of government schools in Mississippi were closed for extended periods. How come that not led to more pressure for school choice in the Magnolia state?

The biggest barrier to change in our state is that fact that not enough of our elected politicians see the need for change. Many prefer to believe that standards in government schools are better than they are, and if things aren’t bad, they reason, why change?

Advocates for school choice need to be prepared to present some uncomfortable facts about education standards in our state:

 - 2 in 3 fourth graders in Mississippi government schools fail to achieve proficiency in reading.  According to National Assessment of Educational Progress data only 31 percent of fourth graders were at or above reading proficiency in 2022.

- Almost 4 in 10 fourth graders in 2022 did not even reach the basic reading standard.

- 2 in 3 fourth graders in Mississippi government schools fail to achieve proficiency in math, with only 32 percent at or above proficiency in 2022. 

- At eighth grade, 8 in 10 were failing to achieve math proficiency in 2022. 

- Almost one in four Mississippi students – 108,000 children – are chronically absent from school.  Mississippi Department of Education data shows that in 2022-23 the chronic absentee rate from Mississippi government schools was 23.8 percent.

- The chronic absentee rate is way above the national average and has skyrocketed from 70,275 in 2016 – 17 to 108,310 in 2022-23.  

If you want to young Mississippians to get a better start in life than this, you need to support fully fledged school choice.

School choice advocacy organizations, like MCPP, have often made the case for change in terms of social justice. School choice, we like to say, would give every American child opportunities that today only rich families have.  This isn’t enough. Nor is it enough to keep publishing white papers nobody reads and drafting legislation that never gets passed.

We need to demonstrate that school choice is the only effective response to the ‘woke’ takeover of government-run classrooms by the ideological left.

Many government schools in America have clearly been promoting Critical Race Theory, an off shoot of Marxist academic theory.  Often this has been done innocuously, under the banner of promoting equity, diversity or inclusion. 

  Sometimes the mask slips.  We know, for example, that here in Republican-run Mississippi, our own Department of Education has recommended that teachers use social studies resources calling for the abolition of Christopher Columbus Day and the payment of racial reparations.  

  There are no shortage of vested interests - teacher unions, education bureaucrats, federal officials - determined to do everything they can to keep your kids captive in government-run classrooms.

To overcome that opposition, we must first address the anti-school choice politicians who indulge them.

  In Texas, Gov Greg Abbot was a fully-throated champion of universal education savings accounts.  He threw his weight behind change, only to have a dozen or so “conservative” members of the legislature scupper the plan.

  When Texas voters saw those anti-school choice “Republicans” vote to deny them school choice, they helped make these “Republican” lawmakers ex-lawmakers.  School choice, I suspect, will sail through the Texas legislature in the next session.  Either you are a conservative and support school choice, or you aren’t.

This post was authored and sponsored by Douglas Carswell, 
President of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.  


Anonymous said...

We already have school choice: Prep or JA. I prefer Prep.

Anonymous said...

Please keep the unmotivated out of my child's school. Merely changing schools will not make a kid learn.

Anonymous said...

Nobody with kids is asking for this. Just young, childless, idealistic libertarians. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But it is DOA in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

This is how you make private school tuition go up $7-9k without making any meaningful change in education.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that voters want school choice.

Anonymous said...

I have 3 kids at JA and I live in zone Jackson and I’ve lived other places that have school choice and it works out well. Tobyhe commentators on here claiming we have school choice that’s incorrect yes those of us that can afford school choice do have school choice and the ones that can’t afford it don’t have it unfortunately… I’m all for school choice!!! The liberals don’t like it bc the poor now aren’t under there control.

Anonymous said...

11:23 I think you misunderstand what school choice will actually mean. The schools that I have seen in this type of scenario have waiting lists, and their metrics measure the desire of the student to actually attend and participate in their own education. If someone doesn't want to be active in their child's education, then they can go somewhere else. The good schools will be the ones to hold high standards, and be sure to provide this good education to those that actually want it.

Anonymous said...

"School Choice" sounds good on the surface, but we have to fight public money going to private and especially religious schools.

Mike said...

You must get a perverse rush out of using the term government school instead of public school. There are some excellent public schools in MS yet you mistakenly use the bogus theory “if one school is bad, then all schools are bad.” Having vented, I will say I’m not opposed to school choice as long as the accountability standards required of public school be required of all schools receiving public funds. A thought, if private schools begin taking public funds, does that make them government schools?

Anonymous said...

MCPP is fast becoming the scourge of Mississippi Think Tanks.

Carswell and his clan obviously believe in the melting-pot theory. Throw all the kids together, average them all down or up and wind up with mediocre at best.

The outfit in charge of approving Charter Schools in this state has been all about declining applications since day-one. Refute that.

Anonymous said...

What state(s) have a working and successful school choice program? Otherwise, MS should look for and implementing other solutions to improve the current public schools to keep their community being sustainable.

Anonymous said...

Brick and mortar public schools won't exist in 50 years....plan accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Also known as using tax dollars to pay for someone's children to go to a school they could not otherwise afford

This is another fleecing of America!

Anonymous said...

1:43 is right. Quit arguing about tweaking early 1900’s school structure. Try to be the first to move into 2050 reality.

Anonymous said...

"How come that not led to more pressure for school choice in the Magnolia state?"

"If you want to young Mississippians to get a better start in life than this, you need to support fully fledged school choice"

Where did the author go to school?

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought find some unincorporated land, build a township with your own school district.

Anonymous said...

The charter school argument flipped when it became a bunch of suburban moms and public school bosses whitesplaining to inner city black mothers why their kids should stay trapped in failing schools.

If you want school choice statewide, you have to make the contrast that stark. The people arguing strongest against school choice are affluent, suburban, female and white and their kids all go to high performing schools. Everyone else is for it, but they just may not know it yet.

Anonymous said...

So ALL taxpayers should pay for private schools to pick which students are allowed to attend their school. A liberal plan at best. Will make ZERO difference in quality of education. Carswell makes weaker and weaker arguments .....

Anonymous said...

Why don't we START HERE- Let's make ALL public schools- County & City EQUAL in Funding & Cirriculum before we start changing schools & students around. In the end a "High Demand " school will be turning a lower performing student out for a lesser school to "Make Room" for a better performing student & then we'll be right back where we started!

Anonymous said...

Go ask a third or fourth grader what they study in their Mississippi or US History classes.

Mistreatment of tenant farmers, Elvis and Faith Hill make up your MS History course.

The Civil War and mistreatment of Native American tribes make up your US History.

At least that’s what I saw in my children’s classes before we pulled them out of Madison Schools.

Anonymous said...

If so many have a problem with vouchers, why not expand the school choice opportunities we already have? Charter school statute limits charter schools from opening in any district not rated a D or F. Why not let charter schools open in any district? Politicians complain that charter schools are failing while refusing to allow them to open in any place other than a district that is already failing, yet the parents would literally lay down their lives to keep these schools open for their kids. There are many reasons why parents would choose an alternative school besides a letter grade rating.

Anonymous said...


And guess who votes? All those white suburban moms who moved to the suburbs to take advantage of the (probably) successful public schools. Tell me why they would want IEP, 504 behavior plan kids from the inner city, demanding a spot in the name of choice, at the local suburban school? Why would these moms want to take the hit on property values when the local school is now full of poorly performing, untouchable behavior kids thanks to school choice?

Short answer: they don’t want any of it so they won’t vote for anyone who supports it.

The only exception might be the try-hard parents who can’t quite afford the mediocre private school down the street. If a private school doesn’t raise tuition by at least the dollar amount of the voucher, then you know that private school is churning out an inferior product compared to the free school down the street. Looking at you, Hartfield, MRA and Park Place.

Anonymous said...

The goal of parental choice is to empower parents to direct their tuition account toward the best school for their children, and to bleed dry self-serving administrators.

The $8,000 available per student won't be enough for Prep or JA and a private school would still retain the right to accept or decline an application.

Parents who have kids in private schools pay taxes supporting public education, why can't they benefit equitably as well?

Anonymous said...

I don't have children in school, my youngest of 5 will be 37 this year. What I'm going to post has been posted here many times. I know this because I have read it.

Until parents make the education of their children a priority, very little will change. I don't know where that will leave the single mothers working 2, sometimes 3 jobs.

Anonymous said...

The "Do-Nothing" option to this question is resulting in an absolute breakdown in discipline and ethics within schools that is just now hitting the state as parents at all income levels are increasingly unable to agree on the standard to which their children will be taught right from wrong (not my baby!).

The only long-term solution is the ability for like-minded parents to associate, remember that freedom of association thing in the constitution, with like-minded groups of other parents to raise their children. Yes, the enrollment must be open for state funds to flow, but I feel much safer knowing that the parents behind the students have the same vision for their children, with a commitment to a discipline policy that backs it up, not that they just look the same and have money to spend. Tuition might go up by half the voucher value, but the practical change will be small, as this is the way the economics are already working, particularly for universities; a higher sticker price and then merit based discounts. For K-12 those discounts likely need to be tied to parental involvement at the school.

Inevitably this association is going to have a religious character in the holding out in hope for a child’s future, but all truth seeking does and it cannot be sidelined by the government only for that reason.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think there is a large appetite for this among the average voter. I know plenty of people who pay for private school who would love to let some of their property tax money follow their student but they also have concerns about "those people" joining them which is why some will think twice about supporting this. "Those people" is less about race now and much more about behavior and ethics of the fellow students and parents.

My two kids are public school graduates just like my ex wife and I. My kids received a decent education overall in one of the well regarded school systems in the state but it wasn't perfect. If could have paid for Prep or St. Andrews I would have gladly done so. The general thought would be someone like me would have loved a voucher yet I don't have strong feelings about it.

The national Republican Party has made this an issue in many states so of course it should be an issue here as well, but I just don't see most voters getting excited about it.

Anonymous said...

An "Un-Intended Consequence" of Charter School Sucess...


Anonymous said...

"Until parents make the education of their children a priority, very little will change. I don't know where that will leave the single mothers working 2, sometimes 3 jobs."

@ 11:11 a.m. - The problem with your analysis is that 'the single mothers' you mention, in the majority of cases, are not working ONE job, much less three. And you've never seen your comment posted here before, since it's never been true.

The problem with educational outcomes in this state is the horrendous number of babies having babies neither of whom have been raised right.

None of this 'school choice' garbage would impact that problem in the least. And you can take that to The Bank of England. (insert 'wink' icon here)

Anonymous said...

Mike @ 12:53pm Dude, do you know how many luxury cars I've seen pulling up and picking up their kids at a GOVERNMENT paid for school? Hundreds. WHY on earth do taxpayers have to pay for OTHER people's children and their education? Complete bullshit, and was never in the U.S. Constitution as a "right".

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