Mississippi lawmakers are pushing competing bills that aim to address problems with educating children with special needs in across the state.
The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act would give parents of special needs children seven-thousand dollars in state money to take their children out of public school and use it on things like private school tuition, tutoring or curriculum and testing materials. Senator Nancy Collins of Tupelo introduced the bill. Last week, Collins told MPB News the legislation would help parents decide what's best for their children.
"Parents who believe that they need more for their children, who are not currently satisfied, they would do their own planning for their child's education however that worked." say Collins. "I think it says a lot about our state and our communities how we treat the most vulnerable of our children, and we need to help them."
Some Democratic members of the house believe the vouchers would be detrimental to special education as a whole, because it would drain much needed state funds away from public schools. They have instead proposed a measure that would separate the state's general education funds from special education, and make it its own line item in the budget. Wendy Rogers with the Mississippi Council of Administrators of Special Education says the Democratic proposal is a direct alternative to the voucher bill.
"What this would do would be to ensure that the special education children who have such various needs no matter where you are in the state." Rogers says. "Their needs are much greater than some of our other students needs and that the resources could be put in place to meet those needs first."
Nearly 54,000 students with disabilities attend public schools in Mississippi, but just 23 percent of them graduated in 2012.