School choice rally held as fate of bills remains unclear

MGN Online

Mississippi's elected leaders again on Tuesday voiced support for giving parents the choice to pay for private schools using public money, but it's unclear if such proposals will advance in this year's Legislature.

Posted: Jan 25, 2018 6:24 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's elected leaders again on Tuesday voiced support for giving parents the choice to pay for private schools using public money, but it's unclear if such proposals will advance in this year's Legislature.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, all Republicans, spoke Tuesday at a school choice rally attended by hundreds of students.

"It's your civil right, your civil liberty, to take your child and enroll them in a school of your choice and not one that the federal or state government tells you to put your children in," Bryant told attendees.

Conservative groups that organized the rally are pushing for movement on Senate Bill 2623 and House Bill 1339 , which would expand Mississippi's program that now sends some students who need special education services to private school. The bills would prioritize use of the money by students with disabilities, but also allow students without disabilities to attend, prioritizing those from lower- and middle-income families. In all cases, the aid would be offered to students including those who are just entering kindergarten and first grade who haven't previously attended public school. The number of slots would start at about 2,400 next year, rise to 4,800 the year after that, and then rise by 1 percent of public school enrollment each year.

Some public school advocates oppose the bills, saying they would drain money away from public schools and send children into private schools that wouldn't be publicly rated on quality.

"They use words such as 'choice,'" said Rep. Orlando Paden, a Clarksdale Democrat who watched Tuesday's rally from the Capitol's fourth floor. "You have a choice to make the public schools great."

Gunn and Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison both say they're waiting to see if there's enough support to move forward with bills, which must pass out of their originating committees by Jan. 30.

"Like anything else, you've got to have the votes," said Gunn, of Clinton.

Grant Callen is president Empower Mississippi, a school choice group that helped organize Tuesday's rally. He expressed confidence that the bill would move forward, at least in the Senate.

"I feel good about where we're at," he said.

Speeches focused in part on some of the Legislature's past achievements, such as allowing charter schools and creating the current, smaller special needs scholarship program. Reeves focused on the Legislature's current effort to rewrite the public school funding formula. Many choice advocates support that change because it links money to each child, which could make it easier to carry to private schools.

"For me personally, it's not about funding a school system," Reeves said. "It's not about even funding a school. It's about funding every single child in Mississippi."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
Lauderdale7261242
Lowndes6517150
Lamar635188
Lafayette6313121
Washington5425137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4670110
Oktibbeha466198
Pearl River4605147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425873
Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264642
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248663
Tishomingo231868
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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