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Governor Bryant Signs Special Needs Voucher Bill Into Law

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Parents of some special needs students in Mississippi will soon have a new avenue to support their child's education. The Governor signed The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.

"And now it's law," said Governor Phil Bryant as he signed the measure yesterday.

Surrounded by dozens of special needs families at the State Capitol, Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill creating vouchers for some students with learning disabilities. The law will give the parents of 500 special needs students in Mississippi $6,500 in state money for private school tuition, tutoring or other services outside public schools. The Governor says the bill will not fix all of the state's problems, but it is a start.

"This should be our top priority," says Bryant. We're targeting them because 22 percent of them only graduate from high school. We must do better, and that’s what we're doing here today."

Opponents of the law say it will divert funds away from public schools already strapped for cash. But former Governor Jeb Bush, who drafted a similar law in his state and was present at yesterday's bill signing yesterday, says education is not all about money.

"We spend more per student than any country in the world, and yet our outcomes are not up to where they need to be," says Bush. "It may be focusing on moving to a child-centered system. Rather than spending money on systems, we ought to be focusing on how do we make sure every child learns. They're all different. They all have unique God given abilities."

Jazzmine McKee of Richland is the mother of four, and two of her sons have been diagnosed with autism. She says the program may help offset some of the high costs of therapy for her sons.

"This is a humongous first step; this is huge," McKee says. "It'll make the services that is available to children with autism that is working for children with autism [sic]; it'll make them have a more fulfilling life in the long run."

The program will only accept 500 students this year. Over the next five years, the law will expand that number to 2,500.