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Mississippi lawmakers Reject Special Needs Voucher Plan

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 02 Apr 2014 10:32pm | comments

Mississippi parents of children with special needs will not be allowed to get a 6-thousand dollar education voucher from the state for private schools or services. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the state legislature has rejected a bill to provide those funds.

The main concern around house bill 765 is that it would send state money to unaccountable private schools and open the door to a much larger school voucher program.

The house rejected the final version of the bill on a 63-to-57 vote.

Following the vote, House education chair John Moore of Brandon said the legislature had let parents and children down.

"They were hoping that this would give them an opportunity to go receive services for their children. I don't understand the mentality. I am very sorry for them and I will apologize for them ahead of time. Some logic I can't understand," Moore said.

The bill would have provide funds for 500 students initially, rising to 700 in year four...The Department of Education says there are 65-thousand special needs students in the state.

Representative David Baria of Bay St. Louis joined with nearly all the democrats in the House to oppose the legislation.

"I think the need is real. And we ought to be addressing it somehow. But I don't like the idea of vouchers. I share the fear that a lot of other poeple do that if you start with this relavitvely small group than it becomes a slippery slope. And soon we are giving anyone who wants a vouchers for any reason 6-thousand dollars to go anywhere they want to go," Baria said.

But it wasn't just Democrats who opposed the legislation, a handful of Republicans joined them.

Among them was Representative Pat Nelson of Southaven who says this bill was not the right way to help students with special needs.

"It was not for the children. it was presented that way. but it opened the door for private school vouchers statewide. That is not something my constituents sent me here for," Nelson said.

Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn says he was not surprised by the voted even though he took extra steps to ensure it came to the floor.

Mississippi lawmakers have ended their session for the year, meaning parents who had looked forward to the voucher will have to wait at least another year.

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