Governor’s proclamation signifies launch of ‘School Choice Week’
By Steven Gagliano
While this year’s ‘School Choice Week’ in Mississippi won’t feature the typical fanfare of year’s past due to COVID-19, Governor Tate Reeves issued a proclamation signifying the beginning of the week on Monday, highlighting his continued support for the cause.
According to Empower Mississippi, a non-profit advocacy organization, ‘School Choice Week’ is “designed to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child. Through thousands of independently planned events across the country, National School Choice Week raises public awareness of all types of educational choices available to children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.”
“This is a special week that recognizes the need for effective education options for every child, something that is especially needed now because of COVID-19 and the changing classroom. We appreciate the steps Mississippi has taken in providing high-quality educational options, but we know much work remains,” Grant Callen, CEO of Empower Mississippi, said.
At the national level, Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith co-sponsored legislation to declare this week as ‘National School Choice Week.’
“Education decisions should be in the hands of those who know best – parents and families,” Wicker said. “I am glad to join Senator Tim Scott to show support for school choice and acknowledge the important work of educators, administrators, and parents in supporting quality education for all students, no matter where they live.”
“Parents in Mississippi appreciate options to choose educational settings that best suit their children. National School Choice Week highlights the benefits of school choice and the need to strengthen these policies across the nation,” said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over federal education programs.
The senators noted that a recent survey conducted by the American Federation for Children shows that 72% percent of K-12 parents who work full-time support school choice. Among other arguments, critics of school choice believe that options like charter schools pull funding away from public schools.
As the 2021 Mississippi Legislative Session continues, EmpowerMS outlined several key bills that the organization hopes to see make it to the governor’s desk.
HB 1035 and SB 2793 would establish a virtual public school pilot program to allow students from all over the state to access virtual school options run by school districts or regional education service agencies.
This would expand education options for all Mississippi students and, in particular, give new options to students in rural areas, students in failing school districts, students in need of schedule flexibility, students with health concerns, and students who learn at a different pace from their traditional classroom.
HB 851 would revise the charter school law to give greater flexibility to charter schools to hire great teachers and enroll students without unnecessary delays. Charter schools are supposed to be laboratories of innovation, and this would give them more freedom to serve some of the neediest populations in Mississippi better.
The week is typically kicked off by a large event at the Mississippi Capitol with students and lawmakers sporting yellow scarves, but as previously noted, the pandemic caused a shift. Empower Mississippi will instead host a week-long celebration on its Facebook page. The highlight of the week will be a virtual Coffee and Conversation featuring National School Choice Week President Andrew Campanella and Empower Mississippi CEO Grant Callen on Tuesday, January 26 at 6 p.m.