SB 2675, which would have extended the repealer of the Education Scholarship Account to 2024, died without receiving a vote in the House Education Committee.
The ESA has provided students with special needs with the ability to seek out other schools that best fit their needs, whether that be in another district or in private school.
428 families have received the help of the ESA since its inception, but 250+ remain on the waiting list. They will not receive the benefits of the program if funding for it is not enhanced. The Education Appropriations bill would fund the program with $3 million, but another $3.25 million would be needed to approve everyone on the waitlist.
If there’s not renewing legislation next session to continue the program, it will die.
“Nationally, students with special needs cost about twice as much as general education students to educate, yet the ESA directs only $6,500 – average per-pupill spending in Mississippi is $10,000 – to families who overwhelmingly say they are able to find an education that works better for their children,” Empower Mississippi released in a statement. “ESAs in Mississippi are working and the legislature should show families they are listening in 2019 by making more ESAs available as originally promised.”
When SB 2675 cleared the Senate, it wasn’t without a fight. There was an amendment passed by the Senate that stated any unused money had to go back with the child to the school district if the child returned to that school.
This amendment sparked conversation about both time spent at the original school and opening other issues in a conference report later in the session, according to Senator David Blount.
“If you adopt this amendment, you’ll bring up all the issues in the original bill,” said Blount.
The original bill would have expanded the ESA program.
The issues, according to Blount, included changing the eligibility of students who are awarded the ESA, defining what the money can be used for, and what documentation the parents would have to provide regarding its use.
Another amendment, by Senator Sollie Norwood, would have essentially killed the program. It failed.
Senator Derrick Simmons offered to recommit the bill, ending the discussion for this year, but postponing the conversation until next year, as the program wouldn’t be set to expire until then. That motion failed as well.