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 started accepting applications for this education savings account (ESA) program on July 1, 2015.
The annual award amount is $6,500, 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.
Students must have had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) within the past 18 months. 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 for participation for the following year.
Mississippi’s Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program was enacted as the third education savings account program in the country, paving the way forward for school choice for all. Many states considering ESAs take an “incremental choice” route to reflect Arizona’s pioneering program. In this case, Mississippi also began the program with limited eligibility for children with specified disabilities. While this is a good step for Mississippi students, it is not the end goal for parental choice in education. Mississippi should continue to expand eligibility in the program to allow all Mississippi students to have their education tailored to their individual needs. The program administration is currently under the Department of Education. The administration of the program should be moved to a different government department, such as the Department of Revenue or to a nonprofit designated to administer the funds. The enrollment cap also severely limits an already limited program. The cap should be lifted entirely to allow all parents of eligible students access to an ESA. Mississippi also does not allow roll-over funds to be saved into a college savings account if they remain unused. This could cause unintended waste. In that case, the roll-over component of this program should allow the use of college savings accounts, which is more consistent with “lifelong learning.”
Miss. Code Ann. §§ 37-181-1 through 21
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.