By Nancy Loom
Well-funded privatization forces are gaining ground in their efforts to privatize Mississippi’s public education system, a move that would hand state tax dollars and our children’s futures to unaccountable for-profit, virtual, and private schools.
Here’s what we know: a wealthy Mississippi businessman who supports privatization measures is offering large amounts of campaign cash to recruit legislative candidates – who promise to vote for vouchers and unlimited charter schools — to run against current legislators who have voted against those measures.
The threat of a well-funded opponent in the November 2015 election has some incumbent legislators running scared. Some who have voted against vouchers in the past are now leaning toward voting for the measures in hopes of discouraging privatization opponents in their districts.
The problems with this are obvious and serious. Once these privatization measures are in place to channel taxpayer dollars into corporate pockets, the profiteers will come barreling into our state. They will take already limited public school resources and give those resources to private interests with no accountability whatsoever for the quality of education they provide. The results of similar actions in other states have been abysmal. For-profit schools focus on profits, not children.
The privatization lobbyists have been working overtime, and an incredible number of bills contain privatization language. Even bills that, overall, have a good purpose, like the Senate’s Districts of Innovation bill, have language sneaked into them that allows for virtual schools. (The House Districts of Innovation bill does not.) In other states that allow this, the privatization lobbyists have poured money into local school board elections to support pro-privatization candidates who, if elected, would vote to put for-profit virtual schools in the school district.
Don’t be fooled by the voucher bills. If they were truly about helping students with special needs, the bills would require the voucher schools to provide services that meet the special needs of qualifying students and hold the schools accountable for the quality of education they provide to children. These bills have no such requirements. The bills simply divert state funds to private academies and for-profit and virtual schools that DO NOT have to provide any special services to students. Students in public or home schools are expressly prohibited from receiving the vouchers; only parents who want their children in private schools qualify.
On a positive note, there is a bill, HB 814, that provides real help for all children with special needs, whether in a public, private, or home school. Legislators who are sincerely interested in helping children with special needs will urge Speaker Philip Gunn and Education Chairman John Moore to take up HB 814 in committee before next Tuesday’s deadline.
(Nancy Loom is executive director of Jackson-based The Parents Campaign)
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