Vouchers Could Extend to Any Public School Student Under New Bill

— Just before Gov. Phil Bryant declared Jan. 21-27 “School Choice Week,” Sen. Gray Tollison’s, R-Oxford, voucher-expansion bill dropped. The legislation would vastly expand the use of vouchers—a way to use taxpayer money in private schools—beyond the limited special-education role they currently play.

Tollison’s bill expands vouchers to any student who was enrolled in a public school during the previous academic year or is eligible to enroll in public kindergarten or first grade. Additionally, children of active-duty Armed Forces members or in foster care, as well siblings of students that already have ESAs would be eligible under Senate Bill 2623.

“My end goal is to allow a child the opportunity to get a good education, however that may be. There are other choices that many wealthy Mississippians take advantage of, but poor folks can’t because they don’t have the resources,” Tollison told reporters in January.

The state’s education scholarship accounts program allows vouchers that currently enable Mississippi kids with special-education needs to leave public schools and use state dollars to receive services or attend a private school.

The state’s ESA program has yet to fully use the $3 million lawmakers appropriate to the program each year. This school year, there are 404 active ESA accounts, and 322 families have asked for reimbursements. MDE has paid out about $971,000 on ESA vouchers so far this year.

The voucher is worth $6,494, which families can use on tuition, textbooks, curriculum, computers, tutoring or therapeutic services or transportation, among other things. Tollison’s bill would make ESAs an add-on program of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, the state’s education-funding formula—meaning that MAEP funds would pay for the special-education vouchers. His legislation keeps students with special-education needs’ vouchers at $6,500, while all other participating students would receive 95 percent of the base student cost.

The House passed a new education funding formula last week, which suggests a base amount per student at $4,800. Tollison’s proposal would allow students to roll over any unused voucher funds to use in the next school year.

Source: Vouchers Could Extend to Any Public School Student Under New Bill | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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