Over 1,000 advocates of school choice–including teachers, parents, and students– rallied on the south steps of the Capitol as the Mississippi State Legislature convened this morning. People came from all over Mississippi to show support for expanding school choice statewide.

At the event, every educational option was celebrated. Students came from traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, special purpose schools, and homeschoolers were also in attendance.

While the current options were celebrated, president and founder of Empower Mississippi Grant Callen said, “The American Dream reminds us of the legacy that every man is an heir of dignity and worth. Mississippi’s education system, for all its strengths, still favors the haves over the have-nots. Until all parents have a choice, our work is not done.”

Lt. Governor Tate Reeves copied the sentiment and added that the government should not be the sole decision maker for education.

“Parents know best, not some bureaucrat sitting in Jackson,” said Reeves.

Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn stated that while three major bills have benefitted school choice since 2012, there is more to be done that could break down the limitations of school choice being tied to simply a student’s zip code.

“I believe we ought to expand on school choice,” said Gunn. “The state’s role is to supplement those choices.”

One mother, Leah Ferretti, made a passionate plea for more options for students with special needs. All three of Ferretti’s children are dyslexia, but only one of the two school-aged children have the ESA scholarship.

“My oldest child was initially in a public choice,” said Ferretti. “But he was dying on the vine. If I let others tell me that they knew what was best for my child, I know he would be an unfortunate statistic.”

“But as a Mama bear…I refuse to be told that someone else knew what was best for my child,” Ferretti added. “As a parent, I am the expert on my children.”

Ferretti added that there are over 200 students waiting on the ESA list. She stated that for the first two years, each year there were supposed to be 500 students approved each year.

“There are over 400 at the table,” said Ferretti, “And over 200 on the waitlist. Now I’m not a math expert, but the math doesn’t add up.”

Following the rally, students, teachers, parents and advocates made their way into the Capitol to meet their lawmakers.

School Choice Week runs through January 26th.