Voucher Bill Dies at Legislature, Possibly Ending Program Next Year

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Mississippi's education voucher program, which subsidizes private-school tuition at the expense of public schools, could end next year after lawmakers allowed a bill to extend it to die in committee.

The $3-million educational scholarship account, or ESA, program subsidizes tuition for some special-needs students, but $1.3 million of those funds come at the expense of public schools. Lawmakers first authorized it in 2015, and it is set to expire in 2020.

"Not one legislator came and talked to me about that bill or had a passion for that bill," House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, said in an interview on SuperTalk Mississippi radio on Thursday.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2675, which would have extended the program to 2024, last month. That effort quietly died in Bennett's committee on March 5.

"I don't believe the votes were there to get it out of a committee or to pass it on the (House) floor," Bennett said in yesterday's radio interview.

PEER: Numerous Problem with Special-needs Vouchers

Last year, Bennett sat on the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure, or PEER, which provides oversight of publicly funded programs. A review of the ESA program found numerous problems.

PEER requested information from 101 private schools that receive funds through ESAs, but just 33 responded. Of those, 22 said they depend on public schools to provide special-education services.

In other words, taxpayers often end up paying for special-needs children to go to ill-equipped private schools that rely on public schools to step in and provide their students with special-needs services. Under federal law, public schools must use a portion of their federal special-education funds to provide special-needs services to students in private schools. In the PEER study, nearly 18 percent of parents whose children received ESA funds reported that they did not use them either because they "could

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