JACKSON, Miss.–If you have a child with special needs and they have difficulty learning in a regular school, a bill that would provide money for vouchers could make sure there’s money to send them to another school that could better help. The bill was filed Monday by Rep. Carolyn Crawford and Sen. Nancy Collins on the Senate side.
It’s called the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.
A similar bill was introduced last year and was defeated late in the legislative session.
This legislation (HB 394) would create a pilot program providing parents of students with special needs the option of withdrawing their child from a public school and receiving an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) with funds to help pay for educational expenses outside the traditional public school. Funds would be distributed through a debit card and used for private school tuition, educational therapy, and tutoring, said a news release from Empower Mississippi, a group that pushes “education choice”.
“I applaud Representative Carolyn Crawford and Senator Nancy Collins for introducing this important legislation and recognizing that students with special needs deserve the opportunity to choose an education that will meet their unique educational needs,” said Grant Cullen, president of Empower Mississippi.
“Across Mississippi, too many of the 63,000 children with special needs are falling behind because the public schools they are in are not meeting their needs and few parents can afford to purchase privately what the school system isn’t able to provide. Only 23 percent of children with special needs in Mississippi ever graduate! Mississippi is failing our most vulnerable citizens and that has to change!”
Some of the provisions of the Act:
· This is a pilot program open to 500 students in year one and 500 new students each year after.
· Students with an active Individualized Education Program (IEP) within the past 18 months will be eligible to apply for an Education Scholarship Account (ESA).
· Each account will be funded at approximately $6,500 per child per year and could be spent on approved educational expenses like private school tuition, educational therapy, and tutoring.
· Parents will sign a compliance agreement for proper use of funds and each account will be audited.
· Participating private schools must be accredited, tutors and therapists must be licensed or certified.
Though last year’s bill was defeated, Empower Mississippi claims this year’s legislation has bi-partisan support in both chambers.