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  • Feb 13 2014

Mississippi Legislature Advances School Choice ESAs

UPDATED BELOW

With the advance of its school choice ESAs, Mississippi is closer to becoming the second state, behind Arizona, to adopt education savings accounts, which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, college costs, and other higher education expenses.

MISSISSIPPI SENATE

Today the Mississippi Senate passed SB2325, the Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Collins (R). The sections below represent key parameters of this education savings accounts (ESA) proposal.

STUDENT FUNDING

Each student’s ESA shall be funded at an amount equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) base cost plus the per-pupil average of the proportionate share of funds under state categorical aid programs, according to the legislation. Funds will be deposited into the ESAs on a quarterly basis. The Friedman Foundation estimates ESAs will be worth around $6,100 per student annually (based on about $5,100 per student MAEP cost plus about $1,000 per student as proportional share of all Add-On Programs).

UPDATE – February 26, 2014

Each student’s ESA shall be funded at $6,000 each year. The bill has been given a $3 million appropriation, so the program will be limited to 500 students.

STUDENT ELIGIBILITY

To be eligible, students must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan and have been previously enrolled in a Mississippi public school or attending a Mississippi public school for the first time. The number of school choice ESAs for students with 504 plans will be capped at 2,500 annually; if that cap is exceeded a lottery will be held for those students. The Friedman Foundation estimates that 11 percent of public K-12 students would be eligible for ESAs. (Counting all K-12 students in the state, 10 percent would be eligible).

REGULATIONS ON PROVIDERS

The legisation requires participating schools to 1) comply with health and safety laws that apply to nonpublic schools, 2) hold a valid occupancy permit if required by their municipality, 3) offer students the option of taking a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, 4) comply with nondiscrimination policies in 42 USC § 1981, and 5) conduct criminal background check on employees, excluding anyone who might reasonably pose a threat or who is not permitted to work in a nonpublic school.

NEXT STEPS

A similar ESA proposal is being considered in the Mississippi House of Representatives. This post will be updated based on action, or non-action, taken by that legislative chamber. Notably, the Senate’s ESA has a “reverse repealer” clause that effectively requires the legislation to go to conference committee. Should the House also adopt ESAs, lawmakers from both chambers will agree upon a single version, which then will be voted on again by both the House and Senate. Should the ESA plan pass both chambers, it will head to Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who, in the past two years, has signed two private school choice voucher measures into law.

UPDATE – March 4, 2014

The same day the Mississippi Senate passed school choice ESAs, the House of Representatives followed suit, approving Rep. Carolyn Crawford’s (R) HB765. Subsequently the Senate version passed the House Education Committee and the House Appropriations committee, so the bill advances to the House for a floor vote. Furthermore the House version passed the Senate Education Committee, advancing the bill to the Senate for a floor vote. Should either the House or Senate version be adopted by the other chamber, the bill must be approved in conference committee before going back to both chambers for another full vote. Should both measures pass again, ESAs will head to Gov. Bryant’s desk.

UPDATE – December 10, 2015

On April 16, 2015, Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act into law. For additional information on the passing of this law, check our blog posts here and here. For the most up-to-date information on the program, visit the program page here.

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