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Controversial Scholarship Program Extended by Senate

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Controversial Scholarship Program Extended by Senate
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Sen. Gray Tollison (podium) and Sen. Sollie Norwood Discussing Bill
Desare Frazier

A bill that would extend a controversial scholarship program for special needs students passed the Senate, but not without debate.

Education Scholarship Accounts are vouchers for special needs students to attend private schools or obtain services. Senate Bill 2675 would extend the program to 2024. Critics say the program takes needed funds away from public schools. Democratic Senator Sollie Norwood of Jackson offered an amendment to end the scholarships this year.

"These are taxpayers dollars that's coming from the department of education. They can be used to provide for additional salaries for teachers. You can serve additional students. Give the public schools the money hold them accountable for educating the children," said Norwood.

The amendment failed. Republican Senator Chad McMahan of Guntown, offered an amendment that would allow the money to follow the child if they leave a private school.

"Basically if they leave and want to go back to the public schools, the voucher goes with them back to their public school," said McMahan.

That amendment passed. But, some senators worried McMahan's amendment would open the door to changes such as which students would be eligible. In an election year, they want to avoid controversy by simply extending the program's end date, instead of considering other changes. Republican Senator David Parker of Olive Branch.

"By your amendment you're opening this bill up to have a number of different things happen to it during the committee process," said Parker.

President Pro Temp Republican Gray Tollison of Oxford told lawmakers,

"It's not going to happen. As I said I made a representation to the Senate body and it won't happen," said Tollison.

Extending the program passed. The scholarships average $6,500. The bill now goes to the House.