Proposal to expand Education Scholarship Accounts passes Senate - - Jackson, MS

Proposal to expand Education Scholarship Accounts passes Senate committee

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

This year's version of the school choice fight is coming in the form of expanding the voucher program. Right now, only special needs children are eligible for those tax payer dollars, but a pending proposal would open those up to any student.

If the proposal survives the session, you could think of the Education Scholarship Accounts as flex spending. Parents could choose to take the state money that would go towards their child's public education and put it towards a private school tuition.

That's a model that Empower Mississippi wants to see made a reality.

"It keeps local education dollars in the school district," said Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen. "It doesn't touch those. But it allows those state funds to follow students wherever we can meet their needs."

RELATED: Students and parents pack the State Capitol to lobby for expanded school choice

Vouchers are already available for special needs students. The expansion would include $6,500 for special needs students and around $4,500 for other students.

"This is an attempt to allow those same options to low income families and special needs that don't have the resources to pay for these things on their own," added Callen.

But many public schools supporters are working the phones and social media.

"Let's shut this down and make sure we keep our public funds in our public schools," explained Mississippi Parents' Campaign Executive Director Nancy Loome.

Loome is concerned about state tax payer dollars going to private schools that don't have the same accountability.

The Senate education committee added in some accountability measures before passing it Tuesday. It would now require that any school with 30 or more students using the vouchers to report test results to a legislative watchdog committee. That group would then evaluate the outcomes every three years.

Still, Loome says it's not substantial enough.

"They won't be required to take the same tests that our children in public schools take," she said. "So, parents won't be able to compare the results even if they meet all the other stipulations to be held to any accountability standards at all."

The first year, the vouchers would be available to 0.5 percent of public school students. That shakes out to about 2,400 students. That would double the next year and grow by 1 percent each year after.

By year five, they estimate nearly 22,000 spots would be available.

The bill is on the Senate calendar, but a date for when they plan to take it up for debate has not been set.

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