Supporting public education in Mississippi: Empowering every child’s success

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By Sen. Rod Hickman

JA Guest Writer

Every child in Mississippi deserves access to a quality public education, a fundamental right essential for their well-being, the foundation for thriving communities, and the state’s advancement. The current discourse in the legislature revolves around the administration of this right, with some proposals, like fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, holding promise. However, other ideas align more with political ideologies, potentially hindering our goal of ensuring every student, school, and community thrives.

One such proposal is Senate Bill 2691, a bill that creates open enrollment among public schools. Essentially, this bill allows students to transfer to another school district with consent from the receiving district. The district that the student is enrolled “may not prevent or prohibit a request to transfer to another district.” However, there are minimal guidelines or provisions regarding the transfer process, including how funding is managed between districts – especially if the transfer is temporary.

To be clear, this policy is a form of “school choice” that allows students to select and transfer to a school of their choice, rather than attending a school based on where they live. While on the surface, offering students the choice to attend a preferred school seems beneficial, such policies often fail to expand opportunities, exacerbate existing disparities within the education system, and can be harmful to public schools as a whole. 

For example, open enrollment policies, such as the one outlined, do little to enhance opportunities. Similar to the effects seen with school voucher programs nationwide, affluent students from well-resourced schools and neighborhoods often reap the benefits of choice. Conversely, students in rural or impoverished areas lacking accessible schools or transportation to preferred school districts within the proximity outlined in the bill will not benefit from the program.

Moreover, research suggests that the “choice” movement widens disparities, disproportionately affecting Black students, those with disabilities, and students from low-income families or under-resourced districts. This is because as students leave for other districts, resources dwindle, leaving behind those most in need. These disparities also widen because, in some cases, other school districts do not have the resources that meet the specific needs of students from other communities. 

Open enrollment policies like SB 2691 can also harm public schools, particularly concerning funding. This year alone, public K-12 schools are underfunded by $175 million and have been underfunded by over $3.5 billion since 2008. Many of the schools with the least amount of resources are in areas that are majority Black and are experiencing high rates of poverty. Despite this significant underfunding of K-12 education, the bill fails to address these issues adequately. There is little clarity on how funds will flow between districts during transfers, leaving many schools under-resourced still. And as with the case of charter schools in the state, even less is clear about what happens to the funds if and when the student returns to his or her home district.

To be honest, as a state, we have a significant amount of work ahead to guarantee access to high-quality public education for every student. It is understandable that some parents and students feel frustrated with our current pace of progress. However, introducing new policies that undermine public schools and only benefit a select few will not help us reach our goal. Rather than complicating matters with arbitrary education laws, our focus should be on proven strategies. This means ensuring full funding for every school in the state, tailored to meet the diverse needs of our students and expansion of existing public school programming, with a dedicated effort to address the requirements of those most in need.

Our commitment to guaranteeing access to quality K-12 education for every child signifies equipping each student in the state with the necessary tools to shape their future, contribute to their community, and foster a better Mississippi. Any policy that deviates from this goal should be scrutinized and not supported. Our commitment to education reflects our dedication to building a better future for every child and a stronger Mississippi.

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Supporting public education in Mississippi: Empowering every child’s success

By Jackson Advocate News Service
March 25, 2024