Submitted by: Alice Dillon, Tylertown; Courtney Jones, Jackson; Missy Hopkins, Oxford
Our families need school choice.
The concept is simple: parents direct the tax dollars associated with their child to the best education they can find. Instead of leaving such an important decision up to strangers, we decide how education dollars for our own children are spent.
Does that make sense to you? It does to us.
You see, we’ve experienced the desperation and frustration that only parents feel when they want to solve a problem for their children but see only hurdles.
Each of us has a child with special needs who benefit from an educational setting other than the one assigned to him.
So, we’ve all made sacrifices.
One of us became a business owner to have the flexibility to transport her son to therapy.
Another took up homeschooling at night even though she works at her son’s district school.
Another drives 4 hours each day to take her son to the school that works best for him.
All of us have spent countless hours tirelessly searching for the education we want and need. We’ve investigated and tried online schooling, homeschooling, all kinds of private schools, our district schools, and any other options we could find. We’ve sat in IEP meetings for long hours, applied for Education Scholarship Accounts for financial relief, and stayed on the phone asking questions until we found answers.
But some answers, we’re still waiting on. Though we love our state, the temptation to move to find greater freedom and support grows with each new difficulty.
We have done the work, but there is little to aid us in our efforts to secure the best education we can find for our children.
Two of us adopted our sons, and the joy of providing them with loving homes has turned into a struggle to give them all they deserve.
Thankfully, Mississippi does offer some options to families through private choice programs and new charter schools continue to open their doors.
But sitting on a wait list for months and years is disheartening – we all know. Watching our bank accounts shrink as we try different options is scary. And the emotional toll is difficult to quantify.
As a society, we’ve committed to providing all children between kindergarten and 12th grade with an education. We pay taxes to fulfill this commitment.
But getting a good education depends entirely on where you live, your income, and your needs.
Being a parent who is willing to fight for her kids is a big step in the right direction, but the barriers to educational freedom that exist make our road a long, hard one. We need smart policies that recognize each child is unique and each parent needs the freedom to make choices.
School choice is a smart policy.
It doesn’t cost taxpayers more money, and it’s based on gold standard research. Most importantly, it empowers parents to solve problems immediately. If that’s not enough for you, it’s also good, old-fashioned common sense to give parents back the responsibility of deciding where their children go to school.
And it’s not just children with special needs who can benefit from school choice – everyone can. You advocate for your child more persistently than anyone. You see the consequences of an environment that doesn’t work. You know the financial strain of paying for a seat in a school your child cannot attend because it doesn’t work for him or her.
School choice doesn’t say one school is better than another…it simply recognizes these truths.
We’ve lived for far too long under the assumption that there are education experts out there who know more about our children and who can make better decisions for them than we can.
That’s just not true.
Those people are trying to serve every child and meet every standard – a huge task. We parents are only concerned about our children. We live with them every day, and we know their potential. We know their struggles and gifts. Our values may vary, but we all have the same mission: to give our children the best chance we can at a happy and successful life.
When someone says that you just need to fill out more paperwork, wait for your school to improve, or lobby for more money, you tell them you don’t have time to wait.
When people tell you that school choice leaves students behind, you tell them our current system leaves students behind every day. School choice gives us a fighting chance.
You will hear people say school choice is just a way to take money away from district schools. But you’ll notice those people overlook students in favor of systems and often have the money to make decisions not everyone can. Even if they don’t, they are comfortable with telling you what is best for your child.
We don’t want to tell you how to educate your child. We want you to have the freedom to make that decision yourself.
We’ve worked hard to find a setting that works for our children and realize that search may continue as they grow and develop. Nothing will keep us from doing all that we can for them.
In 2019, join with us and tell your legislators to vote for every student’s success by passing school choice policies that benefit all Mississippians. We don’t have time to wait.