Ahead of the start of the Mississippi 2019 legislative session, a state oversight agency offers legislators ways to improve a special needs education scholarship program. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
Three-hundred-sixty-seven students participated in Mississippi's Education Scholarship Account Program in 2018. That's according to The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review or PEER. Families received about $6,500 to help pay for tuition or services for special needs students in private schools. PEER found 91 percent of parents are satisfied with the program. But Grant Callen with Empower Mississippi, a non-profit, says more funding is needed. There's nearly 200 students on a waiting list.
"When the program passed in 2015, the legislature promised to pass in their law to created 500 new scholarships every year and they simply haven't done it," said Callen.
PEER found over the past two years only 70 percent of the $6 million in funds were distributed. The remaining 30 percent went unused and was returned to the State Treasury. Nancy Loome with the Parent's Campaign says few private schools provide special needs services.
"Parents reported that their children had been denied admission to the private school or that they just simply weren't able to find a private school that met their child's needs," said Loome.
PEER suggests the legislature direct the state Department of Education which administers the program to use another method other than a lottery to distribute scholarships. The report recommends the special needs scholarship program be funded at the same rate as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is about $5,000 per student. Then lawmakers can add funding for special needs, so it's consistent with the rate used for other scholarship programs.