BY: Grant Callen

Cynthia Jackson is imprisoned by her zip code.

She lives in Canton, works as an anesthesia technician, and is a single mother to Will, a 5th grader in Canton public schools.

And there’s the problem. Will is earning good grades and wants to excel. But Cynthia knows that her son is not being challenged. She looks at the thriving schools in the Madison County School District, just a few miles away, and knows her son’s school is just not meeting his needs.

But what options does she have?

Unless Cynthia can scrape together thousands of dollars for private school, find extra hours each day to home school her son, or move—she has no choice. She is stuck with Canton public schools, a loser in the zip code lottery.

So Cynthia is told to wait while the old powers, the education establishment, tweak the current flawed public education system, promising a brighter future, but delivering too little too late for Will, and countless other Mississippi children, who are growing up fast.

It appears the legislature is finally poised to allow the creation of charter schools, giving parents and communities an alternative to the traditional public school model. Governor Bryant, Lt. Governor Reeves, and Speaker of the House Gunn are to be applauded for voicing strong support for charter schools.  Sadly, many in the media and the education establishment are quick to exclaim that charter schools are not a silver bullet.

Cynthia, in fact, agrees. She does not want a charter school for her son. She wants a different kind of choice. And, in this, she represents thousands of parents across Mississippi who are tired of being denied the right to do what they think is best for their children. In Cynthia’s case, she wants cross-district public school choice. Other parents want charters. Still others want tax credit scholarships or special needs vouchers.

For too long, the important decisions about how the Wills of the world should be educated have been made at the state or district level, instead of by parents. The education “experts” insist that if we only would “fully fund” education (whatever that means) Mississippi could improve our educational achievement.

In the last 30 years, we’ve increased education spending 457% per student – so why do we rank lowest in the country on ACT scores? All that time and money has won us a less than 1% increase since 1990. The status quo is unacceptable.

Mississippi Center for Public Policy has been promoting the charter school concept for over a decade, and truth be told, I don’t know anyone who thinks charter schools are the silver bullet.

But if there is a silver bullet in education, it is empowering parents to choose the best education provider for their children.

We must join the 40 other states who have meaningful charter school laws, laws that encourage true choice, with the strength to hold schools accountable and encourage success in all students.

But charter schools are only the beginning.

Mississippi must follow examples like Florida or Indiana, giving parents an array of educational options. Tax credit scholarships, tuition tax credits, vouchers for special needs children, and full-time online learning options should all be implemented in Mississippi.

Our state’s schools don’t need a silver bullet; they need reform, improvement, and lots of it! But change starts with a choice — a choice to let one hard working mother send her son to the school that’s right for him.

Grant Callenis the Director of Development for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, an independent, nonprofit organization based in Jackson. He can be contacted at callen@mspolicy.org or 601-316-6905

via School Choice for All Children » Opinion » Leader Call.

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