National School Choice Week is celebrated this week, and while many tout the benefits of school choice, lawmakers and parents alike struggle with the logistics of embracing and expanding school choice options in the state.
Stephanie Patton of Oak Grove chose to move her daughter, Kadence, from the Oak Grove School District to the 3-D school in Petal.
“We just wanted her to be able to go somewhere she would be able to thrive,” said Patton. “And us not have to fight the school for her accommodations.
Patton said her daughter has benefited greatly from the 3-D school, but that chaos does ensue in the mornings when trying to get her kids to two different schools.
“It’s quite hectic, because I also have a 14-year old,” said Patton. “She’s really easy in the mornings.. but Kadence is a little bit more different, especially since they’re going two different directions.”
From Oak Grove to Petal is a nearly 30 minute one-way trip. Given the school hours, the trip is longer due to traffic.
Tiffany Minor is in the same boat–her children go to two different schools, as Smilow Prep School in Jackson was only accepting incoming 5th and 6th graders when her daughter Jolanda was accepted.
“Getting my kids ready for school in the morning is one after the other,” said Minor. “As soon as one leaves at 6:20, I have to get Jolanda to her bus by 6:30, then I have a 12 year old that I have to get to her bus by 7:10.”
While Smilow Prep does offer a bus ride to students, parents like Patton, or those who live outside of the route for area charter schools, are forced to follow a daily commute.
While National School Choice Week does rally for more options for students, the logistics involved with offering those choices makes the situation for legislators very difficult.
“Well the logistics are the biggest issue,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright. “Some of the questions.. what about capacity? You’ve got strong school districts that everyone wants to be part of.. but what if you don’t have the capacity?”
Dr. Wright said many superintendents have raised the question of how to act when a child wants to switch schools because they are at capacity. With school choice but no regulation, superintendents would then be forced to find the money for more school supplies, more textbooks, more teachers and more staff.
The goal of Empower Mississippi is to create a school choice for all children in Mississippi–but superintendents and lawmakers are concerned that when tax dollars follow students to the school of their choice, they’re opening the door for smaller, rural, and/or underperforming school districts to go bankrupt.
“I think that’s something we’ve got to figure out, and something that other states have done well,” said Wright. “My goal.. is to get the public schools to be the very best they can be, that parents won’t want to leave, and that their school is the best school for them.”
With the logistics of school choice being so difficult to navigate, there’s no way of knowing what school choice will look like for Mississippi, or if or when those options will be available for all.
“We have to see what school choice is going to look like,” said Dr. Carey Wright. “And right now, we don’t have a timetable. I don’t know what the legislature is facing.. if it’s they’re going to study for a year or run a pilot.”
News Mississippi will continue to follow school choice this week.
For more information about school choice and the options you have, click here.