The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program, an education savings accounts program, allows Mississippi students with special needs to receive a portion of their public funding in a government-authorized savings account with multiple uses. The program was enacted in 2015 and launched in fall 2015. Read on for more information about funding, eligibility and regulations associated with this program.
Mississippi allows students with special needs to receive a portion of their public funding in a government authorized savings account with multiple uses. Mississippi started accepting applications for this education savings account (ESA) program on July 1, 2015.
The annual award amount is projected to be $6,877 in 2019–20, subject to increase or decrease by the same proportion as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, i.e., the funding amount provided by the state to public schools. The program has an enrollment cap that increases by 500 students each year, but because the program is funded by appropriation and the state has underfunded it the program has not been funded up to the cap since its second year. Mississippi had been appropriating $3 million a year to the program, but increased that amount to $5 million for 2019–20.
Students must have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) within the past five 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.
Mississippi launched the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program with limited eligibility for children with special needs. While this is a good step for some Mississippi students, it should not be the end goal for parental choice in education. Mississippi should continue to expand eligibility. The program is currently administered by the state department of education. The state department of revenue or a nonprofit designated to administer the funds would be a less politicized environment for overseeing the ESA program. The appropriations process and the enrollment cap also severely limits the program. Lawmakers should continue to increase funding and lift the cap to allow all parents of eligible students access to an ESA. Mississippi also does not allow rollover funds to be saved into a college savings account if they remain unused. A rollover component, like in Arizona’s ESA, should allow the use of college savings accounts to promote the family’s consideration of opportunity costs and a long-term investment in postsecondary learning.
Miss. Code Ann. §§ 37-181-1 through 21
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.
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