This week is National School Choice week, and there are thousands of events statewide over the next few days to raise awareness on what school choice actually means.
“Very simply, school choice empowers parents with the ability to choose the best educational setting for their child,” said Brett Kittridge with Empower Mississippi.
School choice gives parents the right to choose where their tax dollars go by being able to pick the best school setting for their child.
In Mississippi, there are six different venues of school choice.
The first option is charter school. Having only been made legal in Mississippi a couple of years ago, there are currently only three charter schools in the state, and they’re all in Jackson.
The process of opening a charter school is rigorous, to insure that the school is of the highest quality. Even though charter schools are only currently operating in Jackson, they are open to any student in the district, or any student who attends a district rated C, D, or F. In a poor performing school district, that child may skip the school district line to attend charter school.
The second option is the Dyslexia Scholarship. Students in first through sixth grade who have been formally diagnosed with dyslexia qualify for a scholarship of nearly $5,000 to attend a private school or therapy program. Students currently using the scholarship are enrolled at New Summit School, North New Summit School, and Magnolia Speech School according to Empower Mississippi.
The Special Needs Education Student Account, which started in 2015, provided a voucher program that would allow students with special needs to attend a private school in the event that their current school couldn’t address their needs. The funds from that scholarship could also be used for therapy.
Homeschooling is another option for school choice in the state. Mississippi is a homeschool friendly state. Any parent is permitted by law to teach his or her own children in a home instruction program. The state has a minimal amount of regulation that families must follow to legally home school. A legitimate home instruction program is defined as one that is not “operated for the purpose of avoiding or circumventing the compulsory attendance law.”
For a public school option for school choice, there is the Public School Open Enrollment program, which allows for a student to change to another public school outside of the district, if both schools permit the student’s transfer.
The final option for school choice currently in Mississippi is the Virtual School. Offered to students in grades 6-12, the rigorous program only allows for two online courses per year, but can be taken in conjunction with normal academic activities. While limited and dictated by the district, this is often a popular choice for parents across the Magnolia state.