By The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss
JACKSON, Miss. —
By The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger:
One of Gov. Phil Bryant’s most controversial education proposals is for open enrollment in public schools. His plan would allow inter- and intra-district transfers between public schools.
The governor says we have built up invisible walls that keep students locked in failing schools. He likens these invisible walls to the Berlin Wall and advocates tearing them down to allow parents the freedom of choosing where they send their children to school.
But Bryant’s proposal does not single out failing districts, and when questioned about such limits to open enrollment he responded that his desire is to see it applied to all students in all districts. His reasoning for the proposal — those invisible walls trapping students in failing schools — therefore doesn’t match the proposal itself.
Open enrollment is not new; several other states have enacted it to varying degrees of success and in varying manners. Some states have forced open enrollment, meaning every district must accept students from other districts. Other states follow the proposal Bryant put recently, which is that schools must agree to accept students before students can transfer to them. In both cases, there are limits to help protect against overcrowding and so as not to place a financial or logistical hardship on the recipient school.
It is not that open enrollment is necessarily a bad idea in theory or in practice, but it is certainly a bad idea for Mississippi right now.
Open enrollment will do nothing to help improve public education. The argument that it will add competition is a weak argument. It will create competition only among schools who have neighboring schools that choose to participate in the program. And even then it will only create competition for a very few students. At the end of the day, it looks like a program that will affect only a very small number of students.
But the downside of this program in Mississippi is great. Unlike most of the states with open enrollment programs, Mississippi still has districts governed by desegregation decrees. And when the Mississippi Department of Education tries to consolidate districts — even without closing schools or changing the schools that certain students attend — they must get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Furthermore, given Mississippi’s great dependence on federal funding, MDE has a mountain of criteria that must be met to ensure those funds continue to come into the state. Too, Mississippi is a state where equitable funding has not always been the rule. If the state is found to violate equitable funding rules, then we could face federal intervention. ...
Open enrollment may one day be a wise choice in Mississippi, but that day is not now.