Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program
- Education Savings Account (ESA)
- Enacted 2015
- Launched 2015
The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program, an education savings account program, allows Mississippi students with special needs to receive a portion of their public funding in a government-authorized savings account with multiple uses. Read on for more information about funding, eligibility and regulations associated with this program.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2020)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (Fall 2020)
Annual Award Value (Fall 2020)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Mississippi’s Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program Participation
The award amount is $5,606 in 2020–21. After a $2 million increase to program funding in 2019–20, the Mississippi legislature reverted back to previous years’ funding level of $3 million appropriated for 2020–21. Due to this decrease in funding, the annual student award amount decreased considerably from previous years in order to accommodate the previous increase in enrollment. This amount is normally based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) base student cost, i.e., the funding amount provided by the state to public schools, and is subject to annual increases or decreases by the same proportion as MAEP.
ESA funds may pay for tuition and fees at eligible private schools, textbooks, tutoring, testing fees, licensed therapy services, dual-enrollment courses, consumable school supplies, and essential computer hardware and software.
Students must have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) within the past three years. While participating in this program, students are not eligible for either a Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship or a Nate Rogers Scholarship. Participating students are automatically approved to participate the following year. Once enrolled in the program, participating parents do not need to reapply for funding if their students remain outside of the public school system.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Mississippi’s ESA program for students with special needs helps hundreds of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do much more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students in grades K–12 who have had an IEP in the previous 5 years. Only 19 percent of Mississippi students are eligible for a scholarship and only 0.1 percent of students statewide actually use one of Mississippi’s three educational choice programs (including the Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities and the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship Program).
The ESA value is $5,606, which is about two-thirds of the average expenditure per student at Mississippi’s district schools. Only $3 million in funding for the ESAs is available annually, which is equivalent to only 0.06 percent of Mississippi’s total K–12 revenue.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Mississippi policymakers should expand eligibility to all students.
Mississippi’s ESA program has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. In 2020, Mississippi lawmakers took a step backward by disallowing the use of ESA funds at out-of-state schools or online schools, needlessly limiting the options available to ESA families. Moreover, unlike the ESA programs in other states, the Mississippi ESA does not allow rollover funds to be saved into a college savings account if they remain unused. Reversing these policies would provide greater freedom and flexibility for families to customize their child’s education as well as a greater incentive to utilize their ESA funds efficiently.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Conditional
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: 3,000
- Budget Cap: $3 million
- Account amount: $5,606 (2020–21)
- Testing Mandates: None
- *Limited to students with special needs
- Be accredited by, or hold a provisional letter of accreditation from, a state or regional accrediting agency (does not include a home instruction program)
- Comply with health and safety laws that apply to nonpublic schools
- Hold a valid occupancy permit if required by municipality
- Offer students the option of taking a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test
- Comply with nondiscrimination policies in 42 USC § 1981
- Provide parents of prospective students details of the school’s programs, qualifications, experience and capacity to serve students with disabilities
- Have no record of fraud or abuse
- Exclude from employment anyone not permitted by state law to work in a nonpublic school or who might pose a threat to the safety of students
- Conduct criminal background checks on employees
- Document child’s disability at least once every three years
- Sign an agreement to provide an organized, appropriate educational program with measurable goals
- Not enroll participating child in a public school and waive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) rights under IDEA
- Immediately notify the Mississippi Department of Education of a disability or enrollment status change
- Participate and share the pre- and post-assessments administered by the school the child is attending
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.