Students, parents, and educators visited the state Capitol on Tuesday to celebrate National School Choice week.

The biggest issue for school choice in Mississippi is the re-authorization of the state’s Education Scholarship Account program, which is set to expire on July 1 without legislative action. A bill to renew the program passed the Senate last year, but died in the House Education Committee without a vote.

John Wells, whose 11-year-old daughter Jalyn is receiving assistance through the ESA program, said she had gone from being non-verbal as a 5-year-old to being an A and B student. The ESA allowed the Wells family to get their daughter a speech therapist and a tutor.

“Parents, we know who knows our children best and that’s us,” Wells said. “We know what they can handle and what they can’t. We’re so thankful for the legislators that voted this through and supplied this and I’m sure there are hundreds of parents throughout the state that are thankful for all of the help they get to educate their children. We really want you to encourage you to speak to your leaders and keep it going and even expand it. 

“There’s so much we can do with it. It’s an amazing thing to be able to choose where your children go to school, choose how you live your life with your children because there are so many people who don’t get to have this choice.”

Tamala Boyd Shaw is the founder and executive director of the second charter school, Leflore Legacy Academy, to be opened in the Delta region. She told the crowd that an equitable education is the civil right of the 21stcentury.

The Greenwood school’s application was rejected on the first attempt by the Mississippi Charter Authorizer Board and she thought about giving up before deciding after prayer to redouble her efforts.

Now the school is set to open in time for the next school year. Boyd Shaw said that she’s now interviewing support staff and will hire the teachers next. She also said they’ve found a turnkey building for the school and will start with sixth grade and add a grade every school year until they can start a high school.

“Understanding charter schools and school choice is really more than understanding the differences than traditional public schools,” Boyd Shaw said. “It’s about understanding the needs of students and the desires of parents. I would encourage legislators and others in decision-making seats to dig deeply when thinking about whether they are for or against school choice and think about the children.”