It can be hard to determine the motives of those who push for "school choice."
After all, it can be difficult to distill what proponents of school choice, a movement that includes everything from expansion of charter schools to some version of vouchers, even want.
On the surface, successes in other states can make charter schools look like a sweet deal in Mississippi, where public education is suffering. And the philosophy behind school vouchers—that parents should be able to decide where to spend their money—is popular among fiscally conservative citizens.
But when you look at the history of public education in Mississippi, especially in the years after the collapse of Jim Crow, you can't help but notice the parallels to today's push.
And when you see the racial demographics of today's private schools, whose roots reach back to the former "segregation academies" that sprouted up after the state was forced to desegregate its schools, it's hard not to feel like time is standing still.
It's time to admit that we've got a problem. A problem that might not exist today if efforts to keep students segregated by race and socioeconomics hadn't persisted as they did, and continue today. The incidences of "white flight" continue today in tandem with flight of middle-class African American families.
None of this is the fault of parents who are motivated by the desire to provide the best education for their kids. It is the fault of state policymakers, who consistently claim that public education is at the top of their priority list, but consistently fail to do anything to fix the systemic problems in public schools.
Consider Gov. Phil Bryant's third-grade reading-gate bill that is so sparsely funded that it would be laughable if it wasn't tragic. Consider the insistence on not fully funding the state's own public-education formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, even though state law requires it. Consider the recent effort to provide just enough of a teacher pay raise to quell any real political opposition from Mississippi's public-school teachers, and the question now of whether the pay raise will be fully funded.
Of course, it's easier for wealthy school districts to cope with such half-solutions. But for historically poorer districts—which tend to be chronically understaffed and have many more maintenance issues to deal with—there's not only less money to move around but moving money around has a disproportionately harsher impact.
If we are going to entertain talk of giving parents more choice, we must also reckon with the fact that we have taken many choices from schools with the failure to provide adequate levels of taxpayer support.
Rather than rehashing old political tricks, such as reframing school-choice rhetoric, policymakers should take some of their own advice and give all school districts a choice.