Several years ago, the leader of a national organization pushing the privatization of public schools revealed privatizers’ sinister strategy:
1. Starve public schools of the resources they need to be successful
2. Convince the public that public schools are failing (thereby creating a desire for an alternative)
3. Fund pro-privatization candidates for legislative and school board elections who will decrease public school funding and vote in favor of vouchers for private school tuition
Mississippi’s most recent statewide election saw a large influx of out-of-state campaign donations for candidates pushing school privatization measures. Since then, public school supporters have fought a growing wave of legislation that would reduce funding for public schools and divert state funds to private schools.
Starving public schools
House Bill 957, a rewrite of our school funding law that proponents tout as a “student-based formula,” would both starve public schools and facilitate vouchers in one fell swoop. It is estimated that, in its first year of full implementation, HB 957 would shortchange the DeSoto County School District $5,515,654 – or more. The best-case scenario for funding in this bill is even lower than what public schools would get if the Legislature continued underfunding school districts at the same rate that it has for the last six years.
But the best-case scenario is improbable. Districts with an absentee rate higher than seven percent would be penalized severely, and flaws in the data the leadership used to make its projections mean your district’s funding would almost certainly be even less.
HB 957 eliminates the high growth component, which would be particularly harmful to districts like DeSoto County that have significant annual increases in enrollment. The district would no longer get funding for new students the first year they are enrolled.
And HB 957 includes no adjustment to account for the inevitable rising expenses of operating schools. Your district would get nothing to cover state-mandated annual “step” increases in teacher salaries, rising health insurance premiums and other unfunded mandates, and the ever-increasing costs of utilities, technology, supplies, etc.
Claims by state leaders that districts would see funding gains with HB 957 are based on a false comparison; they are comparing 2025 full funding to 2018 underfunding. The reality is that all districts would be shortchanged. Mississippi public schools have never had a seven-year string of funding as bad as that proposed in HB 957, not even during the Great Recession.
Pushing voucher legislation
This “student-based” funding plan would make it easier to convert public school funding into vouchers for private school tuition. The per-student amount would simply follow the student out of public schools and into a private, for-profit, or cyber school – none of which has any obligation to provide a quality education or to answer to taxpayers for how they spend our public funds.
This is precisely why the bill, cleverly, wouldn’t go into effect until after the next election. Those driving this legislation don’t want you to feel its true impact. Too much knowledge on the part of voters likely would spell doom come the next election for legislators who vote for this funding law rewrite and voucher enabling legislation.
Local communities thrive when they have strong public schools. Without them, they wither and die. Are the people of DeSoto County willing to stand by while legislators vote to starve your public schools and divert scarce remaining funds to unaccountable private and for-profit schools?
I believe our children, our public schools, and our local communities are worth fighting for. If you agree, visit msparentscampaign.org and learn how you can stand up for public schools and help ensure a better future for our children and our state.
NANCY LOOME is executive directior of The Parents’ Campaign. She resides in Clinton with her husband and children, two graduates of and with a current student in the Clinton Public School District.