Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and more than 1,000 parents, teachers and community members plan to kick off the state’s participation in National School Choice Week with a Capitol rally on Tuesday.
Hosted by school choice advocacy organization Empower Mississippi, the rally will take place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Capitol rotunda, according to a press release from the organization.
From Jan. 22-28, cities across the nation are participating in the week-long event to raise awareness of education options for students, ranging from public schools to charter or magnet schools, private schools and homeschooling, among others.
National School Choice Week began in 2011. According to the NSCW website, the week of celebration will feature more than 21,000 events across the nation and include every state.
In Mississippi, Bryant and Reeves are expected to tout the school choice options available here.
In August 2015, the state’s first charter schools opened in Jackson. Charters adhere to the same academic standards as traditional public schools and receive public school funding, but they are independent of the district and fall under the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. This allows charters more freedom in student instruction.
Last year, Bryant signed into law an expansion of the charter school, allowing students in districts with a D and C ranking to be eligible to attend charter schools. The original law only opened the door to charter schools to those in districts with an F ranking.
The new bill also allows students to cross district lines to attend a charter school. The original law required them to attend a charter school in their home district.
The charter school law was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed last July. Plaintiffs in the suit say the state constitution requires property taxes only to be used by the school districts in which they are collected. The suit also claims that state law requires schools receiving state funds to be regulated by the state Superintendent of Education and the local school district superintendent. The case is pending.
The Mississippi Department of Education also offers a lottery for students to receive disability vouchers, which provide recipients with public education funds to attend private schools. In Mississippi, students with disabilities who receive the scholarship receive $6,637 for a year’s worth of private school tuition, books, tutoring or a host of other approved services.
Earlier this month, state Education Superintendent Carey Wright reported to the Legislature that while 425 educational scholarship accounts were approved this school year, only 274 have applied for reimbursement, or used the scholarship. Wright noted that there were an additional 215 students on the waiting list for the vouchers and said the department was seeking to determine why so many of those approved for the vouchers were not using them.