1/31/18 Legislative Update: Senate Education Committee Passes Vouchers for All
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Yesterday was the deadline for committees to pass general bills originating in their own chamber (i.e., Senate or House). Hundreds of bills died on the calendar last night because they were not passed out of committee. The House Education Committee passed five bills out of committee, while Senate Education passed seven. We will issue our first bill tracking spreadsheet this Friday. As expected, Senate Education passed its voucher bill (SB 2623) during a meeting late yesterday afternoon. Senator Gray Tollison, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and author of the bill, presented the bill to the committee. As shared previously, this is a dangerous bill. It allows parents to use Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) to pay for a number of services, including tuition at private schools, online learning programs, and fees for their students to take assessments. The bill prohibits holding private schools accountable for state funds or services to students who use these vouchers. While public schools must report a myriad of data related to student performance, SB 2623 provides that private schools and educational service providers paid with these vouchers are not required to report data “ in order to prevent an undue administrative burden” on such schools, unless the school has 30 or more participating students, in which case the school must make aggregate test scores of such students available to the legislative PEER Committee if requested to do so. Current law only allows these vouchers to be used by a student who has had an IEP within the past five years. SB 2623 allows any students in our state to apply for a voucher to use state funds to pay for tuition at private schools. In presenting the bill to the committee, Senator Tollison shared a list, provided by Empower Mississippi, of private schools which current ESA students have attended. The counties of the first three private schools listed are not identified; rather, a question mark (?) is provided, as apparently the locations of these schools are not even known. If this bill were to pass, it is estimated that by the fifth year of implementation, more than 22,000 vouchers will be available at a cost of approximately $140 million. Funding for these vouchers will be siphoned away from our state’s public schools. Senate Education took a voice vote on SB 2623, with Senators Blount, Jordan and Norwood all voting against the measure. The full Senate will now consider the bill. Please contact your senator to share your thoughts on SB 2623. Legislative contact information is available via the “Quick Links” menu that runs down the left side of our homepage.
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