The Pitfalls of Privatization

Several bills being proposed in the 2015 Legislative Session open Mississippi’s doors to privatization of public schools. Tell your legislators to examine every bill carefully and to vote NO on any measure that allows state funds to pay or offset the cost of tuition at a private, for-profit, or virtual school.

HB 394 and SB 2695

These are House and Senate versions of voucher bills to divert public dollars to private schools. They are being promoted as an effort to help children with special needs, but they do just the opposite. They put children with disabilities at risk by requiring their parents to forfeit the protections for them that are codified in state and federal law, and placing them in private schools that are not required to provide any special services. Senate Bill 2695 explicitly provides for virtual schools based in other states to enroll Mississippi special education students using a $7,000 voucher, while providing no special education services at all. House Bill 394 is a little more vague on that provision, but both bills create a means for virtual and for-profit schools, in or out of state, to reap profits from public funds while providing no special education services for the children the bills purport to help and while escaping public scrutiny through the bills’ provision that private, virtual, or for-profit schools receiving voucher funds cannot be identified publicly.

SB 2191

This is a bill to create public school “Districts of Innovation.” The goal is worthwhile: to allow public school districts or individual schools within a district the flexibility to innovate and implement new ideas designed to improve instruction; participating districts or schools are exempt from certain local and state policies. There is a catch, however, in Senate Bill 2191: it allows districts to establish a virtual school (not just virtual classes) and modifies the school funding formula (MAEP) to ensure that students are counted in the funding formula based on “virtual” attendance. So a virtual school opens in a district and then what happens? In other states, pro-privatization lawmakers have accompanied their support for virtual schools with a push for statewide open enrollment, allowing any student in the state to enroll in a virtual school, no matter what district the virtual school is in, with state and sometimes local per pupil funding to follow the student. Most of the funding that follows these “virtual” students ends up, guess where? In the pockets of the for-profit companies that run virtual schools. Even worse than these companies’ profit motive is their terrible academic track record in other states.

There is a House version of the Districts of Innovation bill, however, that offers the positives of SB 2191 while eliminating the “virtual school” language of the Senate bill. HB 861, introduced by Rep. Jerry Turner, allows innovation districts or schools within a district to establish online classes in a blended environment. This provision means students can take individual classes online but their primary school experience will be in a physical school building in the presence of a classroom teacher, as opposed to a virtual school experience in which all of their time is spent sitting at home alone as one of hundreds of students observing instruction on a laptop computer from a teacher in another part of the country. The language in HB 861 eliminates the huge profit stream of per pupil funding flowing to out-of-state “virtual schools.”

Other Bills

There are several bills to create income tax credits or deductions for private school tuition or home school expenses. These bills divert tax dollars from public schools to private entities with no accountability. Read more on our Troublesome Bills page.

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