Gov. Bryant to sign special needs education voucher bill into law

In an effort to meet special needs students’ educational requirements and increase graduation rates (currently 22.5% compared to 74.5% for all others), the House and Senate have concurred on Senate Bill 2695 sending it to Gov. Bryant for signing into law.

The bill will provide $6,500 scholarships, sometimes called “vouchers,” to participating students to be used by parents to acquire education that is oriented to the specific needs of their special needs student. The program will be open to 500 students in the 2015-2016 school year; 250 vouchers will be given on a first-come, first-served basis and 250 vouchers will be awarded by lottery.

A similar bill failed to pass the House in 2014. Rep. Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian vowed to bring the bill back for the 2015 legislative session and, working with Sen. Nancy Collins, pushed the bill to the governor.

Arizona and Florida are the only other two states that have similar programs which are called Educational Savings Accounts.

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2015 Gulf Coast Candidates for State House of Representatives

The following have qualified for candidacy in the 2015 election for the Mississippi House of Representatives. Only the Gulf Coast region is represented below. For a complete list see Empower Mississippi‘s tabulation for the entire state.

District 93 (Hancock/Pearl River):

  • Incumbent Timmy Ladner (R)
  • Billy Joe Ladner (D)

District 95 (Hancock/Harrison): Incumbent Patricia Willis (R) of Diamondhead is unopposed.

District 105 (Greene):

  • Dennis Cochran (D)
  • Roun McNeal (R)

District 106 (Pearl River): Incumbent Herb Frierson (R) of Poplarville is running unopposed.

District 107 (George):

  • Incumbent Doug McLeod (R)
  • Austin Howell (D)

District 108 (Pearl River):

  • Incumbent Mark S. Formby (R)
  • Leaven Guy (D)

District 109 (Jackson): Incumbent Manly Barton (R) of Moss Point is running unopposed.

District 110 (Jackson):

  • Incumbent Jeramey D. Anderson (D)
  • Mitch Ellerby (D)

District 111 (Jackson):

  • Incumbent Charles Busby (R)
  • Kay Sims (D)

District 112 (Jackson):

  • Incumbent John O. Read (R)
  • Amanda Magee (R)

District 113 (Jackson): Incumbent Hank Zuber (R) of Ocean Springs is running unopposed.

District 114 (Jackson):

  • Incumbent Jeffrey S. “Jeff” Guice (R)
  • Dr. Barney W. O’Neal (R)

District 115 (Harrison):

  • Incumbent Randall H. Patterson (R)
  • Patrick K. Williams (R)

District 116 (Harrison): Incumbent Casey Eure (R) of Biloxi is running unopposed.

District 117 (Harrison): Incumbent Scott DeLano (R) of Biloxi is running unopposed.

District 118 (Harrison):

  • Incumbent Greg Haney (R)
  • John McCay, III (R)

District 119 (Harrison): Incumbent Sonya Williams-Barnes (D) of Gulfport is running unopposed.

District 120 (Harrison): Incumbent Richard Bennett (R) of Long Beach is running unopposed.

District 121 (Harrison):

  • Incumbent Carolyn Crawford (R)
  • Jeff Wallace (R)
  • Hunter Dawkins (D)
  • Brian Pearse (D)

District 122 (Hancock)

  • Incumbent David Baria (D)
  • Mickey Lagasse (R)

Education bills approved in the Senate

The Mississippi Senate passed SB 2695, Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, on Wednesday. The measure is designed to help special needs students by providing a $7,000 voucher, provided on pre-paid debit cards, to seek educational services outside the public school system. If enacted into law, it will be limited to 500 students in the first year. The estimated $3.5 million first year cost would be paid from the state’s general fund and not the Mississippi Adequate Education Program earmarked funds. Funds could only use the funds at Mississippi Department of Education approved vendors.

Gov. Phil Bryant and the National Excellence in Education Foundation praised the passage. However, the Parents Campaign opposes SB 2695 because it does not help all students with disabilities and sees it as a step toward privatization of public schools.

SB 2695 will proceed to the House for consideration where a similar bill, HB 294 sponsored by Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian, awaits passage.

Senate Bill 2161 was passed yesterday and will establish the Mississippi Commission on College and Career Readiness to recommend new education standards to replace the Common Core States Standards adopted.  Several Tea Party conservatives, namely Senators Chris McDaniel, Melanie Sojourner, and Michael Watson, protested since the Senate refused to add language making the adoption of the commission recommendations mandatory. Those objecting to SB 2161 also fear that the Commission could recommend standards that simply mirror Common Core standards.

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Special education bill dies in Miss. House

With an estimated 65,000 special needs children in the state of Mississippi, the Miss. House rejected an effort to provide “state” funds (essentially education vouchers) for the most needy 500 students to attend an education program that meets their specific needs.

On Tuesday, Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis) issued a point of order insisting that a super majority would be required to pass the bill since it was seen as a donation of state money to individuals.  Earlier today, Speaker Philip Gunn (R-56) ruled that a simple majority vote was sufficient.  The political jousting was all ‘water under the bridge’ as the measure failed to muster even a simple majority.

One of the 10 Republicans that voted against the bill, Rep. Tom Weathersby (R-Florence), believes that “in our school districts we are capable of handling most of those needs.  Some of our people in the public school system saw it more as a voucher bill than a special needs bill.  Maybe at some point in the future that bill can be amended in a way that we can get some positive effects out of it.”

Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R-Pass Christian) has been pushing the legislation for 2 years emphasizing that Public Schools are not meeting the requirements for special needs.  The amount of funding that would be provided to each special needs child would be on par with the MAEP standard.

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