Mississippi Governor Announces Second-Term School Choice Push

Published February 8, 2016

At the inauguration ceremony marking the official beginning of his second term, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) announced his commitment to give families better educational options and more opportunities for high-quality education using school choice programs.

“We should heed the lessons of history and not stand in the schoolhouse doorway and resist school choice in the name of district integrity or average daily attendance,” Bryant said during the speech. “If it is good for the child and preferred by the parents, let it be done.”

‘Education Crisis’

Brett Kittredge, communications director at Empower Mississippi, a nonprofit policy organization that promotes education choice, says the governor’s promise is encouraging because the state’s education system is currently in crisis.

“There certainly is an education crisis in our state,” Kittredge said. “Right now, more than 115,000 students are trapped in failing school districts, while another 95,000 are stuck in ‘average’ or C-rated school districts. And right now, parents have very few options to seek a better education for their child if they cannot afford to move to a better school district or cannot afford private school. This is unacceptable and [is the reason] parents want more options in their child’s education.”

Kittredge says school choice is about building up the next generation, not tearing down the government school system.

“This is not a rejection of public education as much as a desire from parents to see their child receive the best education possible, whether that is in a traditional public school, charter school, or private school,” said Kittredge.

Parent Power

Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a pro-liberty public-policy think tank, says parents in the state are gaining the upper hand in the fight to attain greater educational opportunities.

“Teachers unions in Mississippi are virtually nonexistent,” Thigpen said. “District superintendents have filled the role of lobbyists and spokespeople for the status quo. They overplayed their hand over the past few years, and the current political leadership is now listening to parents and taxpayers who want better options that the superintendents have blocked.”

‘Guarding Their Fiefdom’

Thigpen says facilitating more competition between government schools and charter schools lets the best schools rise to the top.

“In every other sector of society, healthy competition is the fuel that propels advancement in achievement, and it can be the same in the education sector,” Thigpen said. “If schoolboards were to consider their job to be ensuring that a quality education is available for children in their district, instead of guarding their fiefdom and ‘the way it’s always been done,’ they would be much more successful.”

Leo Pusateri ([email protected]) writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota.