Past Senate Bills

2019 Legislative Session

Voucher legislation has been introduced in both the Mississippi House and Senate. These bills use public funds to pay private school tuition and require no accountability from the private schools receiving taxpayer dollars.

Senate Bill 2675, authored by Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford, is one of the voucher bills most likely to be taken up in committee. This bill:

  • Opens vouchers to all students, removing the requirement that vouchers be limited to students with special needs
  • Provides for approximately 2,350 vouchers in 2019-2020, adding an estimated 4,700 new vouchers to the program annually thereafter at an estimated minimum cost of an additional $25-million every year
  • More than quadruples 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
  • Funds each voucher at a higher rate than MAEP per student funding, giving unaccountable private schools more – not less – money than public schools receive per student
  • Uses 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 student assessments
  • Uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize tuition at private schools
  • Appears to fund home schooling by exempting voucher students from compulsory school laws
  • Allows 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
  • Allows parents to roll over unused voucher funds from one year to the next
  • Requires no accountability for private voucher schools; taxpayers are kept in the dark about the quality of education being provided for their tax dollars; says private voucher schools “shall not be required to report data to the office or any other entity” except if they choose to administer assessments – parents can pick their children’s assessments – and if the school has 30 or more voucher students; these already lax provisions are negated by language in Section 9(1)(a) that says private voucher schools cannot be regulated in any way
  • Reduces funding for public schools by changing 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
  • Creates a new Office of Educational Opportunity within the Mississippi Department of Education

2018 Legislative Session

Deletes “academically” from definition of gifted student. Line 134.

Changes definition of “low income students” from the most recent estimate of the Census Bureau Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) to average of last three years’ SAIPE. Deletes line in House version that reads, “In determining the total number of low income students, the economic status of any individual student or group of students may not be considered by a school district;” effect appears unchanged. Lines 136-142.

Deletes definition of “average daily membership;” replaces it throughout the bill with “student enrollment.” Deletes language defining minimum hours in a school day as “not less than 60% of the normal school day.” Lines 159-169.

Adds language listing specifically the programs that “shall” be funded outside of the formula, omitting career-tech programs, which in FY18 received $76-million in General Funds and $21-million in Special Funds.

  • Early Learning Collaborative programs
  • Reading intervention programs under the LiteracyBased Promotion Act
  • University-based transportation programs
  • Bus driver training programs
  • Extended school year programs
  • University-based programs
  • Section 504 programs
  • Nonpublic school textbooks
  • Dyslexia therapy scholarship programs
  • School Recognition Program

Additional programs “may” be funded outside of the formula at discretion of the Legislature. Lines 201-218.

Base student amount remains at $4,800 (compared to MAEP base amount of $5,381). Base student amount is set by the Legislature; legislation does not include an objective formula that considers either the costs of providing an adequate education or the costs associated with legislative and accreditation mandates. Includes no requirement that the base amount be adjusted periodically. Lines 221-225. Multiplier weights remain the same for:

  • High Schools–30%. Lines 228-251.
  • Poverty–25%. Lines 254-266.
  • English Language Learners–20%. Lines 269-307.
  • Special Education–Tier I 60%, Tier II 125%, Tier III 170%. Lines 310-360.
  • Gifted Education–25%. Lines 363-386.
  • Sparse District–10% (<4 students/sq ml) Lines 389-401.

Adds language requiring MDE to report progress of gifted programs and sufficiency of the supplemental allocation. Lines 376-386.

Retains language addressing calculation of student enrollment, the student count used to determine a school district’s annual allocation. Lines 404-482.

Punitive Average Daily Attendance provision is retained, which reduces a school district’s student count by twice the absentee rate when a district’s average absentee rate exceeds 7% in two unannounced head-count visits by the State Auditor’s office. Adds language stipulating that auditor’s head-count visit shall be “on one day when both teachers and students are in regular attendance for scheduled classroom instruction…” Lines 428-463.

Deletes “and revise” from section requiring the Legislature to review the school funding formula. Line 488. Review must take place every three years versus every four years in House version. Lines 485-494.

Adds language increasing funding in FY19 and FY20 for districts with an increase in enrollment. Lines 609-611.

Retains phase-in language (level funding with hold harmless in FY19 and FY20; in FY21-FY25, UPS phased in with no district gaining or losing in any year more than 3% of prior year’s state funding amount unless the change is attributable to a projected change in enrollment). Lines 602-629.

Retains language creating accountability rating system for school district financial performance. Lines 705-754.

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

2016 Legislative Session

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 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.

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

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
  • All other students: $3,000

(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 non-public 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 and second priority given to students in families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. 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 Mississippi 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 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 file a certificate of enrollment for a home instruction program;
  • 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, including an online or virtual school that has its physical location in another state;
  • 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-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;
  • 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 verifies in writing that their child cannot obtain appropriate services at a Mississippi non-public school within 30 miles of their 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 $7,000 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 $1,645, 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, 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.

The identities of voucher schools shall not be revealed; taxpayers will not know which private, for-profit, 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 2019 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, Application Process, and Administration

The Mississippi Board of Education shall contract with a qualified nonprofit organization to administer the program. The organization must have expertise and training in working with parents to educate children, but is not required to have experience in administering or managing public funds or statewide programs.

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

MDE or the designated nonprofit 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 designated nonprofit shall set annual application deadlines for remaining applicants and maintain a waiting list. If the number of applicants exceeds available slots, a weighted 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.

The designated nonprofit 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 the participating student’s parent with a complete copy of the student’s records within 30 days.

Program Administration

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

The designated nonprofit 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 designated nonprofit 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

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-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;
  • 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, 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.

The identities of voucher schools shall not be revealed; taxpayers will not know which private, for-profit, 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

2014 Legislative Session

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 2,500 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;
  • Contributions to a Coverdell Education Savings Account;
  • Tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution;
  • Textbooks required for courses at an eligible postsecondary institution;
  • Fees for account management by private financial management firms;
  • 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