Empower Mississippi President, Grant Callen, issued the following statement on the filing of the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act by Representative Carolyn Crawford and Senator Nancy Collins.

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.

“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.”

“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!”

“This bill has bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature, enthusiastic support from parents and special needs advocates across the state, and I urge the legislature to pass this bill quickly. Please don’t make the families who are counting on this bill wait one more day.”

Facts about The Special Needs 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.

Empower Mississippi
1/19/15