Mississippi Legislature May Expand School Choice in 2018

Commentary

Mississippi Legislature May Expand School Choice in 2018

An expansion of the state’s education savings account program is being proposed.

There may be major changes coming to Mississippi’s education system in 2018.  The Magnolia State has steadily been moving towards educational reform over the last several years and this year may see that trend accelerate.

The Mississippi House and Senate recently expressed interest in introducing legislation for this upcoming session that would greatly expand the state’s education scholarship accounts. The program, which was formally adopted in the fall of 2015, is Mississippi’s version of education savings accounts and it allows students with special needs to receive a portion of their public funding in the form of a government-authorized savings account. Several hundred Mississippi children already participate in the program and school choice advocates hope to expand that number. If such a bill were to become law, Mississippi would join Arizona and Nevada as states that have expanding the education scholarship accounts to all students.

Public opinion seems to favor such a move. According to one recent report by Empower Mississippi, 65 percent of Mississippi voters support expanding the ESA. An additional 77 percent of voters expressed support for school choice when told that “school choice gives parents the right to use tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs.” The program is also popular among participants, with 90 percent reporting satisfaction. In contrast, just 24 percent said the same prior entering the program.

Program expansions are not the only issues under consideration by the Mississippi legislature. Mississippi is also considering reforming its 20-year-old funding formula known as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Many legislators believe the current formula is outdated and in desperate need of reform. The new proposal would take many of the recommendations of EdBuild, a New Jersey-based nonprofit group that works to modernize school funding systems and make Mississippi’s funding system more fair and equitable.

As events in Mississippi and across the country take place during National School Choice Week, it appears Mississippi could move ahead with important changes that would give more students and parents choices that help them find the best educational opportunities.

Nate Scherer

Nate Scherer is an education policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.