The city of Jackson’s population has declined by some 40,000 residents over the past four decades. And one of the prime reasons is the district education in the capital city. School choice could change that.  

Routinely rated as poor or failing, most recently receiving an F-rating from the state, there are few options for a quality education from the Jackson Public School district.

JPS, which is losing students at a faster rate than the city, currently spends more than $11,000 per student, about $1,000 above the statewide average.

JPS has seen a decrease from 30,000 students in 2012 to under 24,000 last year, a drop of 20 percent. Yet the city’s population only dropped about 5 percent during that same time. That is partially because families now have free alternatives. 

In the past four years, a small charter market has emerged with about 1,500 students enrolled in charter schools in Jackson. Compared to the larger JPS system, the charter market is still tiny. There is not a high school and kindergarten and first grade have just recently become options. But in the grades that have had charters for a few years – mainly fifth and sixth grade – we see 15-20 percent of public school students migrating to charters. 

These are parents who never previously had an option now having an option. 

Jackson also has a large private school sector, with a number of high-quality schools competing for students from Jackson and the surrounding counties. But these schools price out many who would love the opportunity to attend. 

Along with a charter authorizing board that welcomes more schools to the city, allowing tax dollars to flow to parents for their child’s education would help eliminate one of the reasons families leave Jackson. That same family would no longer, in their mind, have to leave because of a failing school system. The “either-or” dilemma is no longer an issue.

A great example on how this could work is in Washington, D.C. By the late 1990s, the city’s population hit a 60-year low as families headed to Virginian and Maryland in large numbers. And new potential residents never considered the city. But over the past two decades, the city’s population has grown by more than 100,000.

Yes the city is now safer and more appealing, but today parents in D.C. have more options than ever, including a charter sector that serves over half of the city’s students, magnet schools, a federally funded voucher program, and districtwide open enrollment. Less than on-in-four students attend their assigned district school. 

The potential is there. Because even if you revitalize the city and make it a place where young professionals want to live, you’ll still see an exodus when their children turn five. 

This week, Mississippi Center for Public Policy will be looking into the underlying reasons as to why Jackson is struggling, exploring the legislative and regulatory climate which encourages migration and business stagnation both within our capital city, and across the state.