Conservatives Should Act on School Choice

By Mississippi Center for Public Policy
April 8, 2024

Mississippi is now entirely surrounded by states that have either passed, or are in the process of passing, laws that will give every family school choice.  A proposal to do something similar in our state never even made it to a full vote in the legislature.

How odd that there has been so little progress towards school choice in such a solidly conservative state.  School choice, surely, is the one policy that unites every wing of the conservative movement across America more than any other. 

School choice appeals as much to blue collar Trump conservatives as it does to the conservatives of the country clubs.  Donald Trump has spoken passionately in defense of universal school choice.  His Education Secretary, Betsy De Vos, has fought heroically – both in office and afterwards - for school choice. 

Universal school choice has universal appeal for conservatives – except it seems in Mississippi.

Even more odd, perhaps, is that it is not only school choice that has failed to advance in the Mississippi state legislature in 2024.  A whole raft of solid conservative measures have failed to advance during this session.

Two months ago, there were high hopes that the legislature give back to voters the right of initiative.  The measure died in the Senate. 

Most conservative, you might think, would oppose the DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) agenda that has run rampant across US university campuses.  A modest bill was put forward to prevent your tax dollars funding DEI programs at our public universities.  The measure was killed off in committee.

At the start of the session many leading lawmakers agreed that something needed to be done to deal with the mismanagement of Mississippi’s Public Employee’s Retirement System (PERS).  A modest proposal to change the way PERS was overseen was shot down in the Senate.

Most people accept that healthcare in Mississippi is not as good as it needs to be.  HB419, which could have removed some of the intentionally restrictive red tape that limits the number of healthcare providers able to treat patients.  The measure was killed off. 

At some point, I put it to you, the voters might start to notice.  It is not long term sustainable to have voters repeatedly vote conservative but to get so little conservative policy in return.

The US South is flourishing.  For decades now, there has been what you might call the Southern Success Story.  Texas, North Carolina and Florida have taken off.  Tennessee, Alabama and even Arkansas are seeing strong, sustained growth, too.  Why not Mississippi?

To be fair, we are starting to see signs of the kind of growth we need.  Our Governor has helped attract so much inward investment there is a danger we grow blasé about yet another billion dollar announcements.  It seems that there are now more people moving to Mississippi than leaving.  Every time I visit Hattiesburg, Laurel, Starkville, Oxford or the Coast, I see evidence of growth all around. 

Nor is there anything pre-ordained about Mississippi being ranked 50th out of 50 states.  It is a choice if we do not do more to emulate the kinds of reforms that have helped transform other southern states for the better.

If a conservative were to run for office today against tax cuts, they’d be unlikely to get very far.  It wasn’t always that way until people like Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform helped make being a conservative synonymous with wanting lower taxes.

We need to do something similar when it comes to school choice.  We need to make it unthinkable to run as a conservative unless you favor universal education freedom accounts.

The good news is that this beginning to happen.  In Texas, for example, a few weeks ago, almost all anti-school choice conservatives lost out in their primary elections.  It would be impossible that anyone could run as a conservative in that state to be Governor or Lieutenant Governor without being unequivocally in favor of universal school choice. 

Why stop with school choice?  I doubt it will be possible to run as a conservative unless you oppose spending tax dollars on divisive DEI or favor giving citizens back their right of initiative either. 


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