Imagine if you were required to shop for groceries in a particular store because of where you happened to live?  What if folk living in on zip code had to use a particular branch of Kroger’s, and not any other? 

Such a system would be absurd, yet this is pretty much how the public education system is run in Mississippi – and across much of America.

Unless a family is able to afford to move to a particular zip code, or afford to go private, moms and dads have little choice over where to educate their kids.  In fact, most families in America have more choice when it comes to where they buy groceries than they do over their children’s education.

Without parent power, moms and dads anxious about some of the things that their children are being taught – such as Critical Race Theory – have found themselves powerless to do much about it. 

This week’s election results in Virginia suggest that this could be about to change.  The Virginia contest saw conservatives unequivocally committed to school choice and parent power win state-wide contests for the first time in twelve years. 

Not only does it turn out that school freedom – when properly presented – is wildly popular.  It turns out that millions of ordinary Americans are not that keen on having their kids indoctrinated into believing that their country is intrinsically racists either.

The conservative movement is at a pivotal moment.  We have an extraordinary opportunity to achieve fundamental change in the America education system – but if we are to seize this chance, we need to take a new approach.

For as long as anyone can remember, school choice in many states has been synonymous with Charter Schools.  Here in Mississippi, for example, we have long tended to put all the school choice eggs into the Charter School basket.  And it has not got us very far at all. 

Paid for with public money, but run independently, Charter Schools are wonderful.  They are a brilliant way of giving lots of kids opportunities that previously only rich people had.  Charter schools have an extraordinary record elevating education standards and ensuring young Americans from every background get a great start in life.  

The trouble is is that there just aren’t enough of them.  To date, here in Mississippi there are a mere seven.

Clearly there is not a shortage of demand for Charter Schools.  Those that I have visited here in Mississippi are buzzing with enthusiastic teachers, cheerful students and supportive parents.  Demand for places at Charter Schools exceeds the places available.

Nor is there a shortage of people wanting to set up Charter Schools.  In June this year it was announced that new applications had come in for a batch of new schools across our state.

The problem is that none of these applications got approved.  When the Charter Schools Authorizer Board met recently, they failed to approve any new applications.  

To be fair to the Board, too, the legislation we have in our state does not mandate the Board to incubate would-be applicants to get them over the line.  But surely the Board could be a little more proactive?  The Board needs a more can-do approach – and Mississippi needs a greater sense of urgency about the need for change.

Right now, anyone wanting to create a Charter School not only needs approval from the Authorizer Board.  Unless they are located in a failing school district, they have to have permission from their local school board, too.  Why?  

How can it possibly be right to give the local education bureaucracy the power to prevent moms and dads having more choices for their kids?  If your local school board really does a good job, why are they afraid of allowing families an alternative?

We would not tolerate it if companies were granted the power to ban competition and force customers to use only their services.  So why are we prepared to allow school boards to do precisely this using our tax dollars?

School choice advocates need policy responses that address all of these problems.  Charter schools have a critical role to play in making school choice a reality.  But we also need to do more that focus on supply-side reform.  We need a demand-side revolution – and Virginia suggests that the demand for real change in public education is there. 

Rather than just Charter Schools, we need to advocate for a comprehensive school freedom program, including open enrolment.  Most vital of all, we need to frame the debate about school freedom in a way that ensures that it resonates with millions of ordinary Americans concerned about the way in which ultra-left wing ideologues have invaded their children’s classrooms. 

If we present school freedom as a way of ensuring that every American child has not just a good education, but a broad and balanced one, our movement will become unstoppable.