MAE on SB2623: The “School Voucher Bill”

The Mississippi Association of Educators Oppose SB 2623

SB 2623 was authored by Senator Gray Tollison and was introduced on Friday, January 19, 2018.  SB 2623 is a school voucher bill that will allow public money to pay for private school tuition and homeschooling.

The Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) is opposed to this voucher bill, as well as other voucher bills that may be introduced this legislative session.

Vouchers take scarce funding away from public schools and give it to private schools and institutions that are unaccountable to the public. The private schools and institutions are not required to meet any standards for accounting, education, or transparency.

Additionally,

  • Voucher bills require less accountability for public resources than public schools. Voucher proposals do not require private schools to adopt the academic standards, ensure the highly qualified teachers, or administer the assessments required of public schools.
  • Vouchers threaten civil rights protections. Private, religious and home schools are not all fully covered by civil rights laws.
  • No clear evidence has been provided that use of vouchers improve student learning. Every serious study of voucher plans has concluded that vouchers do not improve student outcomes.

Rather than experimenting with programs already found to make no real difference in student achievement, we should focus on ensuring that all students across the state have the tools for success — including full funding of public schools, smaller class sizes, more parental involvement, up-to-date materials and high quality teachers.

Vouchers come by many names: Education Savings Accounts, tuition tax credits, etc. At the end of the day, they are school vouchers that take public money to pay for private schools.

We have provided the summary of SB 2623 below for your information. Please feel free to share this information and to provide us with feedback at thendrix@maetoday.org or 601-354-4463.

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Summary of SB 2623:

The Equal Opportunity for Mississippi Students Act

This bill creates an Education Savings Account (ESA),expands eligibility of students who can enroll in an ESA, “clarifies” the authorized use of the ESA, and prescribes how the money can be used.

SB 2623 also creates the Office of Educational Choice to be housed in The Department of Education.

 1. Who is eligible?

Students who are residents of the state of Mississippi and meet one of the following:

  • Was enrolled in and attended a MS public school during the prior academic school year;
  • Is eligible to enroll in Kindergarten or First Grade at a Mississippi primary public school;
  • Has had an active Individual Education Program (IEP) within the past five (5) years;
  • Is the child of a parent who is a member of Armed Forces and who is active duty, or was killed in the line of duty;
  • Resides in the foster care system and who is residing with a prospective permanent placement, or who had achieved permanent adoption, or who is under a permanent guardianship;
  • Is the sibling of a current recipient of ESA program.

2. What is defined as an “Eligible School”?

An eligible school means a nonpublic school that has enrolled a participating student. It must be accredited by the state, regional, or national accreditation agency or possess a provisional letter from an agency, or be approved by the Mississippi Department of Education.

3. How can ESA funds be used?

The funds can be used for:

  • Tuition and/or fees at an eligible school.
  • Textbooks
  • Payment to a tutor
  • Payment for purchase of a curriculum system, including any supplemental materials required by the curriculum.
  • Up to $1,000 for transportation
  • Tuition and/or fees for online learning programs or courses.
  • Fees for nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement tests, including alternative assessments; and fees for Advanced Placement examinations or similar courses and any examinations related to college or university admissions.
  • Costs directly associated with obtaining a nationally recognized industry certification.

NOTE: These are only a few of the ways funds can be used.

 4. What requirements/accountability do these “eligible schools” have?

  • In grades 3 through 8, parents shall ensure their participating student is administered a national norm-referenced achievement test that measures learning in mathematics and language arts.
  • In grade 11, parents shall ensure their participating student takes a test used for undergraduate college admissions.

NOTE: Students with special needs meeting the definition of “eligible student” may be exempt from this requirement.

5. How are the ESA’s funded?

The basis for funding of ESA’s is to be outside of the MAEP funding formula. This is an “add-on program cost” and shall be included in  appropriation.

  • Payments are to be made quarterly to the ESA fund at the same time as MAEP funds are dispersed.
  • The amount shall be $6,500 for special needs students and 95% of base student cost for all other students.

6. How many students are eligible?

Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, the ESA will be available for .5% of the total public school enrollment during the preceding year.

New enrollment will be available to an additional 1% of the statewide public school enrollment each year following the 2018-2019 school year.

7. How are student selected?

If the office receives more applicants than available positions, the procedures are:

  • Random selection process that gives first preference to eligible students with special needs, then
  • Second preference given to students within a household income of not greater than 250% of the federal poverty level.
  • Additional students will be placed on a waiting list.

8. What is considered a “nonpublic school”?

A nonpublic school means an institution for the teaching of children consisting of a physical plant, whether owned or leased, including a home, has instructional staff members.  This is including but not limited to private, church, parochial, and home instruction programs.

 9. What kind of flexibility is afforded an eligible school?

An eligible school, postsecondary institution, and educational service provider shall be given the maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of the students without governmental control.  No eligible school, postsecondary institution, and educational service provider shall be required to alter its creed, practices, admission policies or curriculum in order to accept participating students.

10. Is there transparency in data reporting to the public?

An eligible school, postsecondary institution, and educational service provider shall not be required to report data to the Office of Educational Choice or any other entity in order to prevent an undue administrative burden.