Parents of special needs students in Mississippi can now apply for financial assistance for their child's education. The state Department of Education is now taking applications to enroll children in the Special Needs Scholarship Program.
The Equal Opportunity for Students With Special Needs Act went into effect July 1st. The law will give the parents of nearly 450 special needs students in Mississippi, 65-hundred dollars in state money for private school tuition, tutoring or other services outside public schools.
Gretchen Cagle oversees Special Needs Education for the state.
"The first half of scholarships will be on a first come, first serve basis, and once we reach that 50 percent mark we will have to set a random election or a lottery process for the remaining scholarships," Cagle says.
Some parents of special needs students in Mississippi remain skeptical of the program. Amy Williams' 13-year-old son attends Ocean Springs Public Schools. She says the key to improving educational outcomes for special needs students is through community outreach and support, not vouchers.
"Why can't we make other school districts as good as that?" asks Williams. "It's going to take people, strong advocates, education to get it going. They can make their school districts just the same way. They just have to get their community involved."
Nearly 54,000 students with disabilities attend public schools in Mississippi, but just 23 percent of them graduated in 2012.