8 in 10 voters support school choice in Mississippi, but incoming superintendent calls public school ‘only choice’

A new survey of Mississippi registered voters shows that nearly 80% of respondents support allowing parents to pick the best schools for their children. But the incoming superintendent wants to…

A new survey of Mississippi registered voters shows that nearly 80% of respondents support allowing parents to pick the best schools for their children. But the incoming superintendent wants to “ensure people see public school as the only choice.”

The survey of 600 registered voters sampled between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 found that 73% also believe expansion of education savings accounts (ESAs) in the state would “improve” schools.

The survey was conducted by Arc Insights for yes. every kid. (YEK).

The support for ESAs cut across all political parties and ideologies, with 78% of Republicans, 73% of Independents and 70% of Democrats in favor of the expansion of the scholarship program.

Seven in 10 respondents also said ESAs should be available to families from all income levels, not just for low-income families.

When asked, “Do you support or oppose school choice, where the parent, instead of the government, is allowed to choose the best school for their child?” 79% supported the proposal, and just 16% opposed it. Another 5% remained unsure.

“Families in Mississippi are looking for more education freedom,” YEK Vice President Matt Frendewey said about the survey. “Families clearly support every student across the state having equal access to a publicly funded education that meets their individual needs. This is a necessary next step if Mississippi hopes to build on the education advancements the state has seen over the past few years – by giving families the freedom they deserve.”

Opponents of school choice point to two stumbling blocks in Mississippi that other states have recently overcome. 

The first is that the Mississippi constitution prohibits public funds going to anything but public schools, similar to the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments operating in other states.  

The other is the widespread belief that school choice will weaken rural public schools.   

But Frendewey noted that 33 states have some sort of private school choice program, and 13 have ESA programs. In Florida, a state with many years of school choice programs, a positive impact on rural districts has been shown

By a 7-to-1 margin, Mississippi voters are more likely to vote for a legislator if they support expanding ESAs, YEK said in a statement.  

But don’t count newly selected state Superintendent of Education Lance Evans as a supporter of school choice.  

“There are over 440,000 students in our public schools in Mississippi, and what we have to do is ensure that people see public school as the only choice,” Evans told a recent video conference, according to the Clarion Ledger. “Now, there are other choices out there, obviously, but in large part statewide, public schools are really, pretty much the only choice.”  

Evans said that his job is to make sure that public schools are so good in Mississippi that school choice becomes moot. 

“Like I said, Mississippi Public Schools are obviously not the only choice, but they are the greatest choice,” Evans added. “They are the best choice, so that’s my approach to it.” 

While Mississippi has successfully closed the gap between themselves and other states in K-12 test scores, the Nation’s Report Card shows that Mississippi’s test results are not significantly different than the national average.  

Evans still faces confirmation by the Mississippi state Senate once the 2024 legislative session gets underway. 

In the last legislative session, the Mississippi House worked on two school choice proposals which did not ultimately pass. 

One sought to expand the ESAs to foster children and the other authorizes community colleges and universities to create charter K12 schools.