Past House Bills

2018 Legislative Session

Voucher bills use public funds to pay private school tuition and require no accountability from the private schools receiving taxpayer dollars. House Bill 1339 and Senate Bill 2623 bills:

  • Open vouchers to all students, removing the requirement that vouchers be limited to students with special needs
  • Provide for approximately 2,400 vouchers in 2018-2019, adding an estimated 5,000 new vouchers to the program every year thereafter
  • Use Education Savings Accounts (ESAs, aka vouchers) to pay for a number of services, including tuition at private schools, for-profit virtual schools, and fees for their students to take assessments
  • Use taxpayer dollars to subsidize tuition at private schools
  • Appear to fund home schools by exempting voucher students from compulsory school laws
  • Allow parents to use a mobile app to send state tax dollars to any fly-by-night service provider or any “school” that buys an accreditation online, inviting fraud and abuse
  • Allow parents to roll over unused voucher funds from one year to the next
  • Prohibit any entity (including the Legislative PEER Committee) from requiring data from the private schools that operate using our tax dollars; while public schools must report a myriad of data related to student performance, these voucher bills provide that private schools and service providers paid with vouchers “shall not be required to report data to the office or any other entity in order to prevent an undue
    administrative burden”
  • Quadruple funding for vouchers, though nearly a third of the funds set aside for vouchers in the existing Special Needs ESA program currently goes unused; private schools have refused to admit many of the students who were assigned special needs vouchers, proving that it isn’t parents who do the choosing, it is the private schools
  • Require no accountability for private voucher schools; taxpayers are kept in the  dark about the quality of education being provided for their tax dollars
  • Diminish funding for public schools by changing dramatically how average daily attendance (ADA) is counted for funding purposes, deleting the law allowing excused absences within ADA for students on academic field trips or school-related events
  • Create a new Office of Educational Choice within the Mississippi Department of Education

2017 Legislative Session

Is this a voucher?
Of course it is. It uses public taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private schools. That is the definition of a voucher. Legislators calling it a “scholarship” doesn’t change the fact that it uses taxpayer dollars intended for public schools to pay private school tuition.

Where can this voucher be used?
The voucher can be used at any private school that hires a dyslexia therapist, in Mississippi or any other state (therapist must get MS certification). See strike-all, lines 72-78 and lines 248-253.

Our tax dollars can go to out-of-state private schools?
Yes, Mississippi tax dollars can be taken to private schools in any state, as long as a parent states in writing that his/her child cannot “reasonably obtain appropriate services” within 30 miles of his/her residence. See strike-all, lines 248-253.

How many vouchers will the state pay for?
There is no limit on the number of vouchers that can be awarded under this bill, therefore the cost to the state could be hundreds of millions of dollars. Some predict that as many as 30% of children could qualify as having dyslexia. If 10% of Mississippi students utilized this voucher, the cost would exceed $250-million. See strike-all, lines 81-88.

How will taxpayers know what quality of education we are getting for our tax dollars or the efficacy of the schools we are funding?
We won’t. Voucher schools are not accountable to Mississippi tax payers. Current statute governing Dyslexia Scholarship Program says in Code Section 37-73-29: The inclusion of eligible nonpublic schools within options available to Mississippi public school students does not expand the regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or any school district to impose any additional regulation of nonpublic schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set forth in this chapter.

The amendment relaxes the requirement that voucher schools be audited by the State Auditor and allows the private schools to use any private firm of their choosing (see strike-all, lines 289-291). There is no requirement that schools provide evidence to taxpayers of appropriate academic outcomes.

What does research say about the effectiveness of vouchers?
Research says vouchers have been a failure. Ohio EdChoice vouchers yielded persistently lower achievement in voucher students; Louisiana voucher students performed significantly worse in math and reading after using the voucher to attend private schools; Milwaukee, DC, and Florida voucher programs also yielded poor results.

2016 Legislative Session

As amended by the House Education Committee on 2/18/2016:

Revises the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act and renames it the Equal Opportunity for All Students Act, making Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs, or vouchers) available to all students, including those without disabilities and home-school students.

Definitions

Eligible student – any student who meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Attended a Mississippi public or charter school during the prior academic year
  • Eligible to enroll in kindergarten or first grade
  • Had an active Individualized Education Program (IEP) within the last 18 months or received a diagnosis from a physician or psychologist of autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, Williams Syndrome, hearing or vision impairment, or a specific learning disability as defined by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • A child of an active-duty member of the armed forces or a veteran killed in the line of duty
  • A foster child
  • The sibling of a current ESA participating student
  • A previous recipient of an ESA

Eligible school – any non-public school or home school.

Tutor – person who is certified or licensed by a state, regional, or national certification or licensing organization or who has earned a valid teacher’s license or who has at least three years of experience teaching at an accredited preschool, elementary, secondary, or postsecondary institution (community college, college, university) or who has at least five years’ documented experience tutoring at least five students over five years.

Education service provider – an eligible school, tutor, or other person or organization that provides education-related services and products to participating students.

Student Eligibility

An eligible student may participate if a parent or guardian signs an agreement promising:

  • To provide an organized, appropriate education program with measurable annual goals and, to the extent deemed reasonable by the parent, to provide an education to the student in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science
  • Not to enroll the participating student in a public school and to release the home school district from all obligations to educate the student as long as the student is not enrolled in a public school; participation in the program shall have the same effect as parental refusal of service
  • Not to participate in the Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship or the Mississippi SpeechLanguage Therapy Scholarship while participating in the ESA program.

Participating students remain eligible until the student returns to public school, completes high school, or completes the school year in which the student reaches the age of 21.

A student may return to his school district of residence at any time, after which the student’s ESA shall be closed and unused funds returned to the General Fund.

Allowable Voucher Expenditures

Parents may use the funds for any of the following expenses:

  • Tuition and/or fees at a private, for-profit, home school, or virtual school, including an online or virtual school that has its physical location in another state
  • Textbooks
  • Tutoring
  • Purchase of a curriculum and supplemental materials required by the curriculum
  • Fees for transportation to and from an educational service provider paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider
  • Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests and alternate assessments, Advanced Placement exams or similar courses, and college entry exams
  • Educational services or therapies from a licensed or certified practitioner, provider, paraprofessional, or aide
  • Services, classes, or extra-curricular programs provided by a public school
  • Tuition and fees at a community college, college, or university
  • Textbooks for coursework at a community college, college, or university
  • Surety bond payments if required by the program
  • Contributions to a Coverdell Education Savings Account (Note: Coverdell Education Savings Accounts can be used to pay college tuition after high school graduation)
  • Computer hardware and software, and other technological devices
  • May be used out of state if parent verifies in writing that their child cannot obtain appropriate services at a Mississippi non-public school within 30 miles of their residence

If a student returns to a public school, the student’s ESA account will be closed and any remaining funds returned to the General Fund.

Amount and Type of Voucher

Subject to appropriation. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, the number of ESA vouchers available shall be 1% of the statewide public school enrollment for the preceding year with new enrollment limited to an additional 1% in each year thereafter.

Each student’s annual ESA allocation shall be in the following amounts for the 2016-2017 year and shall increase or decrease by the same proportion as the base student cost for public school students each year thereafter:

 

  • Students with disabilities – $6,5000
  • Students in families with a household income up to 200% of the federal poverty level: $5,000
  • Students in families with a household income greater than 200% but less than 350% of the federal poverty level: $4,000

(Note: the average MAEP allocation per student for 2016-2017 is approximately $4,600.)

Voucher School Eligibility

A participating voucher school shall not be required to alter its admission practices, creed, discipline policies, practices, services, or curriculum; voucher schools may pick and choose the students they wish to admit.

Voucher schools are not required to provide special education services or meet any of the needs stipulated in the student’s IEP.

Voucher schools must:

  • Comply with federal nondiscrimination policies and health and safety laws that apply to nonpublic schools
  • Provide parents with details of the school’s programs and capacity to serve students with special needs if they have such capacity (the schools, however, are not required to provide services to students with special needs)
  • Have no public record of fraud
  • Offer participating students the option of taking a nationally standardized, norm-referenced test
  • Conduct criminal background checks on employees
  • Exclude from employment persons not permitted by state law to work in a non-public school and those who might pose a threat to the safety of students

Accountability

Participating voucher schools shall not be required to participate in the state assessments or the accountability rating system required of public schools and may not be subjected to any oversight or regulation by any government agency, including the Mississippi Department of Education.

Because voucher schools are not required to participate in state assessments or the state accountability system, parents will be given no means of comparing student outcomes in a voucher school to student outcomes in other voucher schools or in public schools.

Beginning in 2018 and every two years thereafter, the Committee on Performance Evaluation Expenditure and Review (PEER) shall prepare a report assessing the sufficiency of funding for ESAs and recommend changes needed to improve the program. The report shall assess:

  • Student and parental satisfaction with the program
  • Student performance on norm-referenced standardized achievement tests for students whose parents request that their students be tested
  • Student performance on Advanced Placement or similar exams and college entrance tests
  • High school graduation rates and college acceptance rates of participating students (Note: voucher schools may set their own standards for awarding of high school diplomas)
  • The percent of funds used for each qualifying expense
  • The fiscal impact to the state and the district of residence, including impact on revenue and impact on expenses

The PEER report must protect the identities of participating voucher schools and students by keeping anonymous all disaggregated data (i.e., the report may not identify which voucher schools have higher test scores or satisfaction rates and which have lower scores).

Publicity, Application Process, and Administration

The Mississippi Board of Education shall contract with a qualified nonprofit organization to administer the program.

The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) must annually notify all students with IEPs of the existence of the program.

MDE shall accept program applications on a monthly basis throughout the year, with 12 month-long enrollment periods.

Voucher students shall be approved on a monthly basis, with notification of eligibility required within 15 days of the close of the monthly enrollment period in which the application was made. If the number of applications made during a monthly enrollment period exceeds the number of ESA vouchers available, a random selection process shall be used with priority given to students with disabilities, second priority given to students in families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, and third priority given to students who reside in school districts rated C, D, or F. Participating students who remain eligible for the following year are automatically approved and are not subject to random selection.

The number of approved ESAs shall be limited to 1% of the statewide public school enrollment for the preceding year with new enrollment limited to an additional 1% in each year thereafter.

The school district of residence must provide the participating student’s parent with a complete copy of the student’s records within 30 days.

Program Administration

The MDE may deduct up to 6% of the ESA appropriation for administrative costs during the first three years of the program, beginning in 2016-2017, and thereafter may deduct up to 4% for administrative purposes.

ESA payments may be made directly to education service providers on behalf of parents; funds shall be made available in quarterly installments.

The MDE shall adopt rules and policies for administering the program and shall conduct or contract for random audits throughout the year.

The MDE or designated nonprofit shall establish or contract for a fraud reporting hotline.

Source: Mississippi Legislature 

2015 Legislative Session

Creates a five-year pilot program to implement Education Scholarship Accounts (ESA).

Definitions

Eligible student – any student who has had an active Individualized Education Program (IEP) within the last 18 months.

Eligible school – a non-public school that has enrolled a participating student. The school must be accredited by a state or regional accrediting agency or possess a provisional letter of accreditation from a state or regional accrediting agency or be approved/licensed by the State Department of Education. A home school is not an eligible school.

Tutor – person who is certified or licensed by a state, regional, or national certification or licensing organization or who has earned a valid teacher’s license or who has experience teaching at an eligible postsecondary institution (community college, college, university) accredited by a state, regional or national accrediting organization.

Education service provider – an eligible school, tutor, or other person or organization that provides education-related services and products to participating students.

Student Eligibility

An eligible student may participate if parent or guardian signs an agreement promising:

  • To provide an organized, appropriate education program with measurable annual goals and, to the extent deemed reasonable by the parent, to provide an education to the student in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science;
  • Not to enroll the participating student in a public school and to acknowledge that the school district of residence has provided clear notice that the participating student has no individual entitlement to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) from the district of residence, including special education services, as long as the student is participating;
  • Not to home school the student;
  • Not to participate in the Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship or the Mississippi Speech-Language Therapy Scholarship while participating in the ESA program.

Participating students remain eligible until the student returns to public school, completes high school, or completes the school year in which the student reaches the age of 21.

Every three years after initial enrollment, parents of students who are not diagnosed with a permanent disability must verify that the student continues to have a diagnosis of a disability.

A student may return to his school district of residence at any time, after which the student’s ESA shall be closed and unused funds returned to the General Fund.

Allowable Voucher Expenditures

Parents shall use the funds for the following qualifying expenses:

  • Tuition and/or fees at a private, for-profit, or virtual school;
  • Textbooks;
  • Payment to a tutor;
  • Purchase of a curriculum and supplemental materials required by the curriculum;
  • Fees for transportation to and from an educational service provider paid to a fee-forservice transportation provider;
  • Fees for nationally standardized, norm-referenced achievement tests and alternate assessments, Advanced Placement exams or similar courses, and college entry exams;
  • Educational services or therapies from a licensed or certified practitioner, provider, paraprofessional, or aide;
  • Services, classes, or extra-curricular programs provided by a public school;
  • Tuition and fees at a community college, college, or university;
  • Textbooks for coursework at a community college, college, or university;
  • Surety bond payments;
  • Up to $50 in annual consumable school supplies for classes, therapies, or tutoring;
  • Computer hardware and software, and other technological devices;
  • May be used out of state if parent deems appropriate and if closest in-state school that parent deems appropriate is more than 30 miles from residence.

Any funds remaining in the student’s ESA after high school graduation may be used for college tuition until the student graduates from college. The ESA account will be closed after college graduation or after four consecutive years following high school graduation without the student being enrolled in a postsecondary institution.

Amount and Type of Voucher

Subject to appropriation, each student’s ESA shall be $6,500 for 2015-16 and in subsequent years, shall be increased or decreased by the same proportion as the MAEP base student cost is increased or decreased.

Unexpended amounts shall roll over to the following year, be combined with the funds for the following year, and be allowed to accumulate. Following graduation, accumulated funds may be used to pay college tuition. (Note: the fully funded base student cost for 2015-16 is $5,355. Voucher students would get the fully funded MAEP Base Student Cost plus $1,145, even in years when public school students do not receive full funding.)

Payments shall be made to ESA accounts quarterly unless there is evidence of misuse of funds.

Voucher School Eligibility

A participating voucher school shall not be required to alter its admission practices, creed, discipline policies, practices, services, or curriculum; voucher schools may pick and choose the students they wish to admit.

Voucher schools are not required to provide special services or meet any of the needs stipulated in the student’s IEP.

Voucher schools must:

  • Comply with federal nondiscrimination policies and health and safety laws that apply to non-public schools
  • Provide parents with details of the school’s programs and capacity to serve students with special needs (the schools, however, are not required to provide services to students with special needs in order to receive voucher payments);
  • Have no public record of fraud;
  • Offer participating students the option of taking a nationally standardized, normreferenced test;
  • Conduct criminal background checks on employees;
  • Exclude from employment persons not permitted by state law to work in a non-public school and those who might pose a threat to the safety of students.

The identities of voucher schools shall not be revealed; taxpayers will not know which private, forprofit, or virtual schools are receiving taxpayer dollars.

Accountability

Participating voucher schools shall not be required to participate in the state assessments or the accountability rating system required of public schools and may not be subjected to any oversight or regulation by any government agency, including the Mississippi Department of Education.

All reports of student and parent satisfaction with the ESA program, test scores on optional achievement tests, graduation and college acceptance rates, etc., are to be reported on a statewide basis. Parents will be given no means of comparing student outcomes in a voucher school to student outcomes in other voucher schools or in public schools.

Beginning in 2018 and every two years thereafter, the Committee on Performance Evaluation Expenditure and Review (PEER) shall prepare a report assessing the sufficiency of funding for ESAs and recommend changes needed to improve the program. The report shall assess:

  • Student and parental satisfaction with the program;
  • Student performance on norm-referenced standardized achievement tests for students whose parents request that their students be tested;
  • Student performance on Advanced Placement or similar exams and college entrance tests;
  • High school graduation rates and college acceptance rates of participating students (Note: only acceptance rates are to be reported, not the percent of all voucher students being admitted to college, and voucher schools may set their own standards for awarding of high school diplomas)
  • The percent of funds used for each qualifying expense;
  • The fiscal impact to the state and the district of residence, including impact on revenue and impact on expenses.

The PEER report must protect the identities of participating voucher schools and students by keeping anonymous all disaggregated data (i.e., the report may not identify which voucher schools have higher test scores or satisfaction rates and which have lower scores). Publicity and Application Process The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) must annually notify all students with IEPs of the existence of the program. MDE shall begin receiving applications on July 1, 2015. ESAs shall be limited to 500 students in the 2015-16 school year and shall grow by 500 students for each year thereafter. Voucher students shall be approved on a first-come, first-served basis until participation reaches 50% of annual enrollment. After 50% participation is reached, the MDE shall set annual application deadlines for remaining applicants and maintain a waiting list. If the number of applicants exceeds available slots, a random selection process shall be used with priority given to students with active IEPs. Participating students who remain eligible for the following year are automatically approved and are not subject to random selection. MDE shall make a determination of eligibility and approve the application within 21 business days of receiving the application. The school district of residence must provide participating student’s parent with a complete copy of the student’s records within 30 days. Program Administration MDE may deduct up to 6% of the ESA appropriation for administrative costs. The Dept. of Finance and Administration may deduct up to 1% from appropriated amounts to cover the cost of providing ESA cards. The Mississippi Board of Education may contract with a nonprofit organization to administer the program. MDE shall adopt rules and policies for administering the program and shall conduct or contract for random audits throughout the year. MDE shall establish or contract for a fraud reporting hotline and may require a surety bond for parents of participating students. If funds are misspent, the parent shall be required to provide additional documentation justifying the expenditure or repay the misspent amount within 15 days. If neither is done, the MDE shall begin a process to remove the ESA from the student and may refer the case to law enforcement. If the parent repays the amount, the offense is recorded in the student’s file. Three offenses in three consecutive years shall disqualify the student from the program. Source: Mississippi Legislature (http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2015/pdf/history/HB/HB0394.xml)

Prohibits school board members, superintendents, administrators, teachers, and staff from lobbying the Legislature for policy change or attempting to influence the outcome of any candidate, political party, or issue during an election; any violation of this act will result in a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $10,000.

Definitions

Political activity – any efforts to support or oppose any political party, philosophy, or issue in an election, campaigning on behalf of a specific candidate or issue, or lobbying the Legislature for policy change.

School facilities – any buildings and grounds owned, operated, controlled, or maintained by the school board, including, but not limited to, schools, ancillary facilities, athletic facilities, and office complexes.

Political events – any and all meetings, fundraisers, gatherings, or other events organized or conducted for the purpose of supporting or opposing any candidate for public office, any issue which is or may be scheduled to appear on an election ballot, or any political party or organization.

Prohibitions

School board members, superintendents, administrators, teachers, and staff members are prohibited from:

  • Using school district time, property, equipment, supplies, or personnel to
    • produce, distribute, or communicate information in support or opposition of any political party, philosophy, or issue in an election or to attempt to affect the outcome of such
    • campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue
    • lobby the Legislature for policy change
  • Using his or her official position to
    • influence or attempt to influence district personnel to support or oppose any political party, philosophy, or issue in an election
    • campaign on behalf of a specific candidate or issue
    • lobby the Legislature for policy change
    • conduct any form of advocacy or opposition in a classroom or school setting, or school related employment relationship
  • Soliciting or attempting to solicit funds from school district personnel on behalf of a candidate, party or issue, or campaign or lobbying effort

The following forms of political activity are prohibited at all times on school property:

  • Distribution of campaign materials
  • Display of political signs (the prohibition excludes advertising on clothing and items permanently affixed to vehicles)
  • Solicitation of students or employees to become engaged in political activity

Further Prohibitions for Superintendents and School Board Members

School superintendents and school board members are prohibited, whether or not they are acting in an official or personal capacity or on school or personal property, from publicly supporting or opposing any political party, philosophy, or issue in an election, campaigning on behalf of a specific candidate (other than his or her own campaign) or issue, or lobbying the Legislature for policy change.

Rights and Obligations of Citizenship

School board members, superintendents, administrators, teachers, and staff members retain their rights and obligations as citizens, except those prohibited in the act.

Employees (excluding superintendents and board members) of school districts retain their rights to actively participate in political activities on behalf of any candidate, political party, or issue outside of scheduled hours of school operations or during authorized personal or vacation leave and without using school property, equipment, supplies, or personnel; these rights do not extend to soliciting funds from or attempting to coerce other school district personnel on behalf of any candidate, political party, or issue.

Punishment for Violations

Any person who violates any terms of the act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, shall be fined up to $10,000. A second conviction within two years will result in revocation of professional license and certification by the State Board of Education.

Source Mississippi Legislature

Note from The Parents’ Campaign Research and Education Fund – the Education Leadership Policy Standards, as adopted by the National Policy Board for Education Administration and the Mississippi Board of Education, include as Standard #6:

An education leader promotes the success of every student by understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context.

  1. Advocate for children, families, and caregivers
  2. Act to influence local, district, state, and national decisions affecting student learning
  3. Assess, analyze, and anticipate emerging trends and initiatives in order to adapt leadership strategies

Source Council of Chief State School Officers

Requires funding for special education to be appropriated to school districts as a separate line item, establishes a position of coordinator of Autism Spectrum Disorder services in the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), and creates the Children with Special Needs Fund to provide financial assistance to families of children with disabilities.

Special Education Funding

Beginning with the appropriation for Fiscal Year 2016, funding for special education will be removed from the add-on portion of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and shall be appropriated to the State Board of Education as a separate line item in the K-12 general support appropriations bill. Special education funds shall be allocated by the State Board of Education to school districts as follows:

  • -For each teacher employed by a district in a program for exceptional children, an amount equal to 100% of the adequate education program salary schedule, based on the type of license and number of years’ teaching experience held by each teacher, plus 100% of the employer’s rate for social security and contributions to the state retirement system.

Statewide Autism Coordinator

MDE shall employ within the Office of Special Education a coordinator of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services. The coordinator will work in cooperation with the Autism Advisory Committee to develop and implement public education policies related to ASD. Duties will include oversight of ASD services in public schools and coordination with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, and other state agencies on ASD services.

Financial Assistance for Families of Children with Special Needs

The Children with Special Needs Fund, to be administered by the Mississippi Department of Health, is established for the purpose of helping families of children with special needs defray the costs of therapies, services, and equipment, with certain limitations.

Definitions

Special needs – the needs of a child who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) through a public school district in Mississippi or a diagnosis of dyslexia by a licensed professional.

Services – special education services provided in Mississippi schools under state law or under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and clinical or therapeutic services provided by licensed professionals.

Dyslexia – a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and poor spelling and decoding abilities, which typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language which is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction, and further characterized by secondary consequences that may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience, which can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Eligibility

To be eligible for assistance from the Children with Special Needs fund, a child must

  • Be in the age range of three through 21 years
  • Have a parent or legal guardian who is a lawful resident of the State of Mississippi
  • Possess an IEP through a Mississippi school district or a diagnosis of dyslexia from a licensed professional

Eligible children may enrolled in a public, private, or home school in Mississippi.

To apply for assistance from the fund, families must

  • Follow the guidelines and application process established by the Mississippi Department of Health in cooperation with the state Special Education Advisory Panel
  • Adhere to household income limitations as follows
    • Families with a household income over 400% of the federal poverty level may apply annually for assistance not exceeding $1,000
    • Families with a household income over 300% but not more than 400% of the federal poverty level may apply annually for assistance not exceeding $2,000
    • Families with a household income over 200% but not more than 300% of the federal poverty level may apply annually for assistance not exceeding $3,000
    • Families with a household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level may apply annually for assistance not exceeding $4,000

No less than 50% of the fund’s annual appropriation shall be reserved for applicants who are at or below 400% of the federal poverty level.

Allowable uses

The Children with Special Needs Fund can help defray the costs of therapies, services, and equipment for a child with special needs as follows:

  • As a supplement to services provided within the school setting under state law or IDEA
  • For clinical or therapeutic services and equipment that are not allowed under IDEA but which are prescribed and provided by a licensed professional
    • Behavioral, occupational, physical, speech, art, and music therapies
    • Therapeutic and life skills equipment and technology not covered by private insurance or Medicaid but prescribed by a licensed therapist or physician
  • For respite care, special purpose programs and camps, private tutoring, and assistive technology
    • In-home or out-of-home respite care
    • Special purpose enrichment programs and camps that support the child’s special needs
    • Private tutoring
    • Assistive technology software and hardware which is not covered by private insurance or Medicaid but prescribed by a licensed therapist or physician
  • Tuition and fees to private, parochial, or other non-public schools are not allowable expenditures

Administration and Oversight

The Mississippi Department of Health, in cooperation with the Mississippi Special Education Advisory Panel, will develop application procedures and guidelines for administration and distribution of monies from the fund.

The Office of the State Auditor shall be responsible for oversight of the fund’s operations and shall submit annually a report to the Legislature which includes a detailed listing of services and equipment provided to participants and demographic data such as number of children served by age, school district, school type, household size, and household income range, and the number of children served by each public and private provider of therapies or equipment.

Source Mississippi Legislature (http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2015/pdf/history/HB/HB0814.xml)

2014 Legislative Session

HB 502 proposes the creation of the Mississippi Achievement School District (MASD) to absorb persistently failing schools into a statewide district.

The MASD will operate as a local education agency (LEA).

The MASD will be run by an appointed superintendent and governed by a 7-member appointed board of directors with broad geographic and demographic representation.  Appointments will be made by the governor (3 members), lieutenant governor (3 members), and the state superintendent of education. Terms of board members are to be staggered.

The MASD board of directors shall appoint a highly-qualified superintendent who will have responsibility for the selection and supervision of school  principals and for oversight and management of the constituent MASD schools.

Schools that for two consecutive years are rated “F” by the Mississippi Accountability System are required to be absorbed into the MASD.

Students will remain in their schools; the principals of those schools will no longer report to the home district administration, rather, they will report to the MASD board and superintendent.

Accountability ratings assigned to the constituent schools within the MASD will be included in the overall evaluation of accountability both the schools district from which it was absorbed and the MASD.

​ Schools may be returned to the jurisdiction of the home district, once the school has improved its accountability rating, at the discretion of the MASD board of directors. The start-up operations of the MASD will be funded through a state appropriation.

​ Following the absorption of schools into the district, the operations of the MASD will be funded as are other traditional public school districts, with local, state, and federal funding to follow the student.

Creates Individualized Education Funds (IEFs) for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and for students eligible for a Section 504 accommodation.

IEFs for Section 504-eligible students are limited to 500 per year.

A student is eligible for a Section 504 accommodation if he/she has any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities are listed in the Americans with Disabilities Act and include learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, speaking, sleeping, bending, caring for one’s self, lifting, walking, standing, hearing, seeing, etc. Included in the definition are major bodily functions such as respiratory, digestive, bowel/bladder, neurological, endocrine, and many others.

Some of the impairments that would qualify a student for a Section 504 accommodation include: food allergies (milk, nuts, shell fish, gluten), chemical allergies (perfume, cleaning agents), obesity, broken arm or leg, gender identity disorder, stuttering, insomnia, poor oral health, nightmare disorder, mild speech disorders (a kindergartner having trouble saying Rs or Ss), poor vision, hearing loss, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD mild to severe), incontinence, eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, etc.), any chronic illness (urinary tract problems, asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, persistent cold, arthritis, blood disorders, etc.), depression, anxiety, behavior disorder, and many others. ​​

There is no limit on IEFs for students with IEPs. Approximately 65,000 students in Mississippi have IEPs. ​

Provides fully funded Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) base student cost amount plus the average per student state categorical aid funds for all students with IEFs. (Note: Students eligible for a section 504 accommodation who do not have an IEP are not eligible for state categorical aid in public schools. Public schools students have not received full MAEP funding since Fiscal Year 2008.)

All participating students will be awarded full IEF amount, regardless of whether or not the student would qualify for state categorical aid in a public school.

IEF funds may be used to cover the cost of:

  • Tuition or fees at a non-public, for-profit, virtual, or other participating school;
  • Textbooks required by a participating school;
  • A tutor accredited by a state, regional, or national accrediting organization;
  • Curriculum, including any supplemental materials required by the curriculum;
  • Fees for transportation (Note: If low-income children spend funds on transportation, they will have no funds left to pay tuition, and vice versa);
  • Tuition or fees for a nonpublic online learning program or course;
  • Fees for nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement tests, including alternate assessments;
  • Fees for Advanced Placement examinations or similar courses and any examinations related to college or university admission;
  • Educational services for students with disabilities from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider, including licensed or accredited paraprofessionals or educational aides;
  • Services provided by a public school, including individual classes and extracurricular programs;
  • Tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution;
  • Textbooks required for courses at an eligible postsecondary institution;
  • Insurance or surety bond payments as required by the department;
  • Up to Fifty Dollars ($50.00) annually for school supplies;
  • Computer hardware and software and other technological devices if a participating school, tutor, educational services provider, or medical professional verifies that they are essential

Participating schools are not required to admit students who apply. Participating schools may deny admission to some applicants and admit others at the school’s discretion.

Participating schools are not required to comply with the student’s IEP or otherwise provide special education services to participating students. Participating schools are not required to provide any evidence of student achievement or satisfactory performance or to adhere to any quality standards; schools are not held to the accountability standards to which public schools adhere.

All students, regardless of income, are eligible for the IEF voucher. No preference is given to low-income students.

Participating students are eligible through graduation or age 21.

The bill states that private schools that receive taxpayer funds through IEFs are not required to be publicly identified.

The Mississippi Department of Education is charged with administering the IEFs.

Annual audits are required to determine that parents are spending IEF funds in compliance with the statute. No performance measures are included in the audit.

A PEER review is required every two years to determine parent satisfaction, behavior, graduation and college acceptance rates, and the fiscal impact on resident school districts. The PEER review is to consider student achievement outcomes only when the parent has requested that the student be administered a national achievement exam or if the student is administered an Advanced Placement exam. Typically, only high performing students enroll in Advanced Placement courses and take those exams, and so these outcomes reports will likely not be reflective of the entire population of students receiving the IEFs.

There are no provisions made in this legislation for objective performance measures that would inform performance-based budgeting requirements associated with other state-funded programs.

Sources:

Mississippi Legislative Web Site

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web Site

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition

Creates Individualized Education Funds (IEFs) for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Students with a Section 504 accommodation or students who are home-schooled are not eligible.

Provides $6,000 per year in $1,500 quarterly payments through a debit card to any parent or legal guardian who signs an agreement promising not to enroll the eligible student in a public school, to provide the student an organized educational program with measurable goals, and not to homeschool the student.

Private voucher schools are not required to provide accommodations called for in the IEP.

Participation is not limited to schools that are capable of serving children with special needs; participating schools are required to inform parents of services that they offer.

Participating students will lose the federal protection afforded them through the IDEA; private schools are not required to provide accommodations, but federal law requires that public schools provide the accommodations outlined in the IEP.

Vouchers are limited to 500 in the first two years of the program, 600 in years three and four, and 700 thereafter. Vouchers will be assigned on a first come, first served basis until enrollment reaches 50% of the enrollment limit. If applications exceed capacity, the remaining 50% of vouchers will be awarded randomly by the Mississippi Department of Education.

IEF funds may be used to cover the cost of:

  • A non-public for-profit, virtual, or other participating school;
  • Textbooks required by a participating school;
  • Payment to a tutor;
  • Curriculum and supplemental materials;
  • Fees for transportation (Note: If low-income children spend funds on transportation, they will have no funds left to pay tuition, and vice versa);
  • Fees for nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement tests, including alternate assessments;
  • Fees for Advanced Placement exams or similar courses and college entrance exams;
  • Educational services from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider, including licensed or accredited paraprofessionals or educational aides;
  • Services provided by a public school, including individual classes and extracurricular programs;
  • Tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution;
  • Textbooks required for college courses;
  • Insurance or surety bond payments as required by the department;
  • Up to Fifty Dollars ($50.00) annually for school supplies;
  • Computer hardware and software and other technological devices

Unspent funds in a student’s IEF upon graduation may be used for college tuition. (It appears that parents could spend $50 on school supplies or $500 on an online curriculum, both allowable expenditures, carry over the balance of the $6,000 voucher each year for every year that the child participates, and then use the accumulated IEF balance to pay the cost of college tuition.)

Participating schools are not required to provide any evidence of student achievement or satisfactory performance or to adhere to any quality standards; schools are not held to the accountability standards to which public schools adhere.

The identity of participating private schools must be protected, despite their receiving taxpayer funds through IEFs.

All students, regardless of income, are eligible for the IEF voucher. No preference is given to low income students.

Once a student is deemed eligible to enroll, the student may remain enrolled in the program through graduation or age 21, whichever occurs first.

The Mississippi Department of Education and the Department of Finance and Administration are charged with administering the IEFs.

Annual audits are required to determine that parents are spending IEF funds in compliance with the statute. No performance measures are included in the audit.

A PEER review is required every two years to determine parent satisfaction, behavior incidents of participating students, graduation and college acceptance rates, and the fiscal impact on resident school districts. The PEER review is to consider student achievement outcomes only when the parent has requested that the student be administered a national achievement exam or if the student is administered an Advanced Placement exam. Typically, only high performing students enroll in Advanced Placement courses and take those exams, and so these outcomes reports will likely not be reflective of the entire population of students receiving the IEFs and will be overwhelmingly skewed toward high achievement.

There are no provisions made in this legislation for objective performance measures that would inform performance-based budgeting requirements associated with other state-funded programs.

Sources: Mississippi Legislative Web Site

The last year that Mississippi’s public schools were fully funded was 2008; state revenue now is back to 2008 levels and is expected to continue to rise. House Bill 1476, however, funds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) for the school year 2014-2015 (FY2015) almost $100-million below the level received by schools in 2008.

HB 1476 includes an increase in MAEP of $72-million for FY2015 over FY2014. Of that amount, $64.6-million is directed to the teacher pay raise and $7.4-million to fund the other day-to-day costs of educating our children.

The MAEP is underfunded in the current school year by $293-million, although Mississippi ended the 2013 fiscal year with a $295-million surplus. School districts have been underfunded significantly every year since 2009. Over the last six years, the funding the Legislature provided for public schools is $1.5-billion below what state law requires.

See your school district’s funding for 2014-2015.

HB 1476 provides for the following funds outside of the MAEP:

  • $10-million for the Public School Building Fund
  • Full funding of the Chickasaw Cession
  • Full funding of the National Board Certification program
  • $6-million for early childhood education
  • $15-million for literacy initiatives
  • $12-million for teacher supplies
  • $6-million for Teach for America
  • $1.5-million for performance-based compensation pilot
  • $1.2-million for digital interactive learning pilot
  • $5.5-million for Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools (MCOPS)