JACKSON – A bill aimed at helping special needs children in Mississippi is closer to becoming law.
The House of Representatives recently passed the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act which will provide up to $6,500 annually for children with special needs. If it becomes law, parents will submit an application to the Mississippi Department of Education for a voucher to help with the cost of removing a special needs child from public schools because of poor services. Only 500 vouchers will be issued each year for five years.
The voucher will provide parents up to $6,500 to pay for tuition at an eligible private school, tutoring services, curriculum materials, transportation, testing supplies, therapies and textbooks.
Some lawmakers objected the special needs act due to funding questions.
Corinth native and District 2 Rep. Nick Bain (D-Alcorn) passionately offered an amendment to the act which was supported by the Mississippi School Boards Association, The Parents’ Campaign and the Equal Opportunity for Students.
“My amendment would have provided more transparency in terms of funding,” Bain said. “Also, special needs students would have been able to stay in public school, where the state could continue to receive federal funds to help with their education, and it would have created a trust fund within the Department of Health where parents fitting into certain income levels could go to receive financial aid to help with such items as respite care, private tutoring and other options.”
Bain’s amendment would have provided up to 4,000 special needs children with up to $4,000 each based on household income to be used on a number of different services and supplies. The requirement to spend the money on private school tuition would have been lifted.
Bain’s amendment died, lacking just two votes to pass.
“I was very upset and, I actually got pretty animated during the session. It’s just not right. It’s like we are politicalizing these kids and their families,” added Bain. “I’m thankful something is being done for special needs children in Mississippi — it’s long overdue, but in my opinion, it still needs some work.”
Bain said parents of special needs students he spoke with in Corinth and Alcorn County do not want to remove their kids from public school, as they would have to do to be eligible for the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.
“They just wanted the public schools to be better equipped to provide the services their children are entitled to receive,” he said. “The amendment I created was an attempt to do that.”
The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, known as Senate Bill 2695, will now head to the Senate for revisions before heading to the governor.
The bill will most likely become law as Gov. Phil Bryant asked lawmakers before the session began to ensure the bill made it to his desk.
By Zack Steen for Daily Corinthian