More Mississippians are taking advantage of a program that awards special need students scholarship money for education services.
The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act is designed to give the parents of about 425 special needs students in Mississippi, $6,600 in state money for approved services outside the public education system like private schools or tutors.
Now, in its second year of existence, the program has seen significantly more enrollment this year. Jean Cook is a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Education.
“So, last year 386 applications were approved, and of those, 157 used the accounts,” Cook says. “For the 2016-17 school year, the law provides for 425 ESA accounts and all 425 have been awarded.”
Last year, special needs students were required to have an individualized education program from a public school within 18 months of applying for the scholarship. But this year, lawmakers amended the law allowing for an IEP within the past five years.
Debra Dye from Olive Branch has a son enrolled in the scholarship.
“It is not cheap to go to a private school,” says Dye. “It is not cheap to provide the services that are needed to address the learning disability that we are facing. We’ve sacrificed. We’ve sacrificed not only money but time as well.”
Students who have never received an IEP from a public school are still ineligible for the program.