New legislation was introduced this week in the Senate and House that will expand education options for Mississippi families.

Senate Bill 2623, authored by Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford), and House Bill 1339, authored by Rep. Charles Busby (R-Pascagoula), will make the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program available to most students in Mississippi, while continuing to prioritize students with special needs. The Senate version of the bill also includes a provision giving priority to students from low-income families.

“High quality educational opportunities should be available to all students,” Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi, said. “The Special Needs ESA passed three years ago and has provided the life-changing power of school choice to hundreds of students. The program has been wildly successful by virtually every measure, serving students at 80 different private schools. Now that the program has demonstrated success, it’s time to expand eligibility to additional students. We applaud Sen. Tollison and Rep. Busby for their support of this significant legislation.”

For students whose needs are not being met in public school, the ESA program allows parents to withdraw their child from public school and have the state education funds that would have been spent on that child deposited into an ESA. The ESA funds can then be used for a variety of education-related expenses outside the traditional public school setting, including private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapy, textbooks, etc. ESAs give families the freedom to customize an education to meet the unique educational needs of their children.

In 2015, Mississippi became just the third state in the nation to adopt an ESA program. Students with special needs, who have received an Individualized Education Plan, are currently eligible to participate. For the 2017-2018 school year, the program is at maximum capacity of 435 with more than 300 on the waiting list. This program is extremely popular among participants, with 98 percent satisfied with their child’s new educational setting.

This ESA legislation would expand eligibility beyond students with special needs, to all public school students in the state. All previous ESA recipients would remain eligible for the program.

In addition to current public school students, other students who would be eligible include:

  • Students with an Individualized Education Plan;
  • Students entering kindergarten or first grade;
  • Students with a parent in the military on active duty or killed in the line of duty;
  • Students in and adopted out of the foster care system; and
  • Siblings of participating students.

The scholarship amount for students with special needs will remain the same, at about $6,500, while the scholarship for all others will be set at 95 percent of the base student cost. Program enrollment will be capped at 0.5 percent of current public school enrollment, or less than 2,500 students, the first year, and grow by 1 percent of total public school enrollment each year thereafter.

Empower Mississippi Press Release