Earlier this year, Mississippi House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto called the defeat of charter school legislation in the Legislature the Democrat's principal success of the session. The Democrats did not block the education reform alone; they had help from a few Republicans.

Meanwhile, Democrat Rep. Chuck Espy of Clarksdale led the charge for charter schools - and he agrees with President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan that charter schools provide a method to help children escape failing schools and have an opportunity to succeed.

While the national presidential debate this year revolves around jobs and the economy, education reform took the stage in Tampa at the Republican National Convention in the speeches of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Rice described education reform and school choice as "the civil rights issue of our day." She said, "But today, today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are."

Rice called for great teachers and high academic standards and said, "We need to give parents greater choice, particularly, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools. This is the civil rights issue of our day. If we do anything less, we will condemn generations to joblessness and hopelessness and life on the government dole. If we do anything less, we will endanger our global imperatives for competitiveness. And if we do anything less, we will tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement the turn toward entitlement and grievance."

Rice reiterated her call for education reform to the Mississippi delegation the following morning at breakfast. Rice followed former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Craig Romney, son of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, speaking at a breakfast sponsored by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker's campaign.

Former Florida Jeb Bush also brought his call for national education reform to Mississippians last month at a program sponsored by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. Bush told Mississippi legislators that Florida's education improvements are linked to the state's new school choice policies, and that it would work for Mississippi, too.

At the Convention, Bush reiterated those sentiments in language similar to Rice, "We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity. Tell that to a kid in whose classroom learning isn't respected. Tell that to a parent stuck in a school where there is no leadership. Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn't have tenure. The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn't exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all. That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time. And it's hurting all of America."

Bush called for high standards for students and teachers, to give parents a choice in schools and to "stop excusing failure in our schools." Bush praised several Republican states for education reform: Indiana and Louisiana for school choice; New Mexico for raising expectations; Maine and Georgia for technology innovations; Idaho for raising up the best teachers; Wisconsin for early literacy and teacher evaluation reforms; Nevada for teacher tenure reforms; and Tennessee for making sure every classroom has an effective teacher.

As it was a Republican convention, Bush also praised Massachusetts under Romney, "In Massachusetts, Governor Romney narrowed the gap between students of different races, raised testing standards, and put into place a merit scholarship, the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship that gives students four tuition free years at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning. He's a champion for bringing hope to education. And he intends to be a champion for equality of opportunity, a president who always puts students first."

While Mississippi did reform the reporting style to an A-F scale of school grades to better inform parents and communities ("Successful" on the chart is actually a "C" school), it didn't make Bush's list of state reformers. But making a list is not important; making a change for children in failing schools is important.

Bush said, "If we want to continue to be the greatest nation on the planet, we must give our kids what we promise them: an equal opportunity." For some parents and students, that is an opportunity to choose their school. Rice said this is the civil rights issue of our day, but preventing certain students from learning in a quality school is really just an extension of the civil rights issues of days passed.



Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC and a columnist for the Madison County Journal. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.