SuperTalk Mississippi

Students, state leaders come together as “School Choice Week” begins

Governor Phil Bryant at "School Choice Day". Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications Inc.

Earlier today in Jackson, nearly 1,000 students from across the state joined state leaders and lawmakers to kick-off “School Choice Week”.

The nationwide event is aimed at educating the public about all of the options available to students including public schools, private schools, charter schools and others. In the rotunda of the capitol, numerous speakers stepped to the podium to discuss the importance of school choice in Mississippi.

Students gather in the rotunda. Photo courtesy of Empower Mississippi.

One of those speakers was Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, who says that no one knows what students need more than their parents. And while strides have been made in school choice in the state, Reeves hopes that more are on the horizon as lawmakers continue to make decisions during the 2018 legislative session.

“It doesn’t matter what your title is. I don’t believe anybody, even if they represent the people, whether their title is Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker, Senator, or Representative knows better what’s best for your kid than parents know,” Reeves said. “Let’s continue to work together, let’s continue to see improved outcomes and let’s continue to celebrate our success but build on those successes to see more in the future.”

A mother from Cleveland, MS spoke about her family’s struggle with finding the right services for their two dyslexic sons. Leah Ferretti spoke of her frustration with the system and urged lawmakers to expand the ability for children with special needs to ensure they are able to get the proper services from their schools or to find a different school that is able to meet their needs.

“As parents, we are asking for proper identification of our children. Don’t deny them their right to free and appropriate education. Don’t deny them the right of appropriate services and therapies,” Ferretti said. “We have a right to have a choice of where we send our children. We have right for them to be happy and successful. We know what’s best for our children…we are asking for a choice to educate our children how we see fit.”

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn spoke, as well as a 7th-grade student from Midtown Public Charter School named Joshua Crockett, who wants to be an engineer someday. Crockett spoke about the opportunities he has been awarded by finding the right school for him on his path to achieving his goals later in life.

Crockett’s speech caught the attention of Governor Bryant who was the final speaker of the event. The Governor has been a strong supporter of school choice and remarked that when they began discussing the issue, that many thought it would not receive strong support. Governor Bryant agreed with Ferretti by saying it is the right of families to pick where their child is educated.

“It’s your civil right, your civil liberty, to take your child and enroll them in a school of your choice and not one that the federal or state government tells you to put your children in,” Governor Bryant said.

Governor Bryant with Joshua. Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications Inc.

Speaker Gunn used the example of a grocery store to describe school choice, stating that if your town’s store runs out of something you can’t find a store that has what you need.

“As long as that grocery store carries everything you need, you’re okay. But what if they stop carrying milk, bread or eggs and the law says that you can’t go to any other grocery store. We don’t apply that type of logic to any other arena in life. You can go wherever you want and use any mechanic, any lawyer, or go to any restaurant you want. When it comes to education, we need to apply the same policy. You need to go wherever you can go to meet your needs.”

Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi, helped put on today’s event, and he says that putting the choice in the hands of the parents is truly the best way to help kids across the state.

“There’s a lot of people invested in keeping the system the way it is. For a lot of kids, our system works just fine, and we don’t want to change anything for kids who are getting a great education, but for too many Mississippi kids, our education system is failing them. So, what we need is for parents to have the freedom to choose the best school that makes sense for their kids whether that’s a public, private or charter school,” Callan said. “When parents choose, students are matched with the best educational setting for their needs.”

Grant Callen. Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications Inc.

The school choice debate currently co-exists alongside the funding conversation swirling around the Capitol. Last week, the House passed a new formula which would replace MAEP and move toward a student-focused formula, which Lt. Governor Reeves said should be the primary focus.

“What I want all Mississippians to know is that when we talk about funding, for me personally, it’s not funding a school system, it’s not even about funding a school. It’s about providing funding for every single child in Mississippi,” Reeves said. “We’ve got to ensure that education policy decisions are made not necessarily on what’s in the best interests of the adults, but education policy decisions to be made on what’s best for the kids.”

Many of today’s speakers concluded by saying that while much progress has been made in Mississippi, there is still work to be done.

Watch the entire event here:

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