Mississippi special-needs vouchers used more in metro areas
Many children using special-needs vouchers in Mississippi the past two years came from metro areas where more private or parochial schools are available than in rural areas.
The vouchers — also called education scholarship accounts — give public money to students to seek classes or tutoring someplace other than their local public school. A student must have a special-education plan within five years of applying for the voucher program.
A report released Monday by a legislative watchdog group shows that for the past two school years, the five districts with the largest number of students departing because of the vouchers were in Madison County, Rankin County, DeSoto County, the city of Jackson and Lamar County.
During the 2018-19 school year, Mississippi had 141 school districts, and students who received vouchers left 59 districts. The report said that 47% of all voucher students who were previously enrolled in public school came from the five districts: 42 students from Madison County, 36 from Rankin County, 25 from DeSoto County, 17 from Jackson and 17 from Lamar County.
During the 2019-20 school year, Mississippi had 139 school districts, and students who received vouchers left 68 districts. The report said that 40% of all voucher students who were previously enrolled in public school came from the five districts: 44 students from Rankin County, 39 from Madison County, 31 from DeSoto County, 21 from Lamar County and 19 from Jackson.
The report is by the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER. It said that for the 2019-20 school year, the voucher amount was $6,765. That was enough to cover tuition at some private or parochial schools, but it would cover only part of the cost at some Jackson-area private schools where tuition costs more than $15,000.
Legislators put $3 million into the voucher program for the 2018-19 school year. The state Department of Education distributed $2.2 million to parents and education providers and spent $120,698 to administer the program.
For the 2019-20 school year, legislators put $5 million into the program. The state Department of Education distributed $3.3 million and spent $146,960 to administer the program. Unused money each year was returned to the state treasury.
Supporters of the voucher program say it gives options to families that are not finding what their children need in local public schools. Opponents say it pulls money from public schools that need the funding to improve their services.
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