Education vouchers wildly successful in Louisiana

In the wake of the Mississippi House’s rejection of education vouchers for 500 special needs students, Louisiana reports 91.9% of parents are happy with the Louisiana Scholarship Program.  The program provides funds for parents to choose a school of their choice if they have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty limit and are enrolled in a public school with a C, D, or F grade.  Of those parents, 91.6% said they are happy with academic progress.

Louisiana’s program now supports 6,490 families.  Despite documented academic successes which led Louisiana’s legislature to roll-out the program statewide, the program had to survive a Justice Department lawsuit last year that alleged the program “impede[d] desegregation.”  Keep in mind, all the students benefitting from the vouchers are poor and most are minorities!

Just as Louisiana had to fight unions and the federal government to get and then keep the voucher program in place, Mississippi will have to fight those that benefit from the status quo.  Where does your state Senator or state Representative stand?  Below is how Gulf Coast Representatives voted on vouchers for special needs students:

  • Jeramey D. Anderson (110)–Nay
  • David Baria (122)–Nay
  • Sonya Williams-Barnes (119)–Nay
  • Manly Barton (109)–Yea
  • Richard Bennett (120)–Yea
  • Charles Busby (111)–Yea
  • Carolyn Crawford (121)–Yea
  • Scott DeLano (117)–Yea
  • Casey Eure (116)–Yea
  • Jeffrey S. Guice, Harrison & Jackson Counties (114)–Yea
  • Greg Haney (118)–Nay
  • Timmy Ladner, Hancock & Harrison Counties (93)–Yea
  • Doug McLeod (107)–Yea
  • Randall H. Patterson (115)–Nay
  • John O. Read (112)–Yea
  • Patricia Willis, Hancock & Harrison Counties (95)–Yea
  • H.B. “Hank” Zuber, III (113)–Yea

Even if they voted with your desires in the 2014 session, be sure to let them know what you think.  Nothing keeps them from changing their vote in the future except accountability to constituents.

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Will ‘Better Schools, Better Jobs’ Amendment help Miss. schools?

“Better Schools, Better Jobs” is seeking a constitutional amendment to require the Mississippi Legislature to fully fund public education according to the MAEP formula.  If 107,000 registered voters sign their petition by April 2015, the initiative will go on the ballot for voters to decide.

Adopted in 1997, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program is a formula that determines total district funding.  Of the $6 Billion state budget, education consumes $2.4 Billion and is receiving an $85 Million dollar increase in 2015.  Fully funding MAEP would require 10-15% more funding.  Per The Parents’ Campaign, that increase would have resulted in $2.54M, $7.67M, and $5.23M more for Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, respectively.

While fully funding education sounds like a good thing, there are several important considerations:

  1. Local governments are responsible for up to 27% of the MAEP formula.  Local officials can always vote to increase the local contribution to their city and county’s schools. 
  2. If you send your children to private school, fully funding MAEP is equivalent to a tax increase.  While an actual tax increase may not happen, under the proposed amendment more state tax dollars would be directed away from state services you use to a state service (public school) that you don’t.  Education vouchers would change that calculus but the state legislature rejected such an option for just 500 special needs students during the 2014 session.
  3. The Mississippi Brain Drain Commission reports that the state is a net exporter of college graduates.  While MAEP does not fund college and university education, state universities are primarily filled with state students.  Therefore state tax dollars are ultimately subsidizing other states’ economies.  Improving Mississippi’s economy and job opportunities (and thereby the state and local tax base) is a better way to improve school funding.

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Gov. Bryant hails successful legislative session

Gov. Phil Bryant appeared on the Paul Gallo Show on April 7th and discussed some priorities during his tenure and a range of legislative accomplishments during the 2014 session.  The entire interview is available free from SuperTalk Mississippi.

Regarding some of the successes during his tenure:

  • Teen pregnancy:  Noted a 10.3% reduction in teen pregnancy over the past year without passing out birth control in classrooms.
  • TANF Drug Screening:  Signed legislation this year requiring new applicants to be screened from drug use/abuse prior to receiving benefits.
  • 2nd Amendment Protections & Sales Tax Holiday:  Passed a sales tax holiday for guns, ammo, and related supplies for September 5th – 7th.
  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act:  Gov. Bryant said the state law mirrors federal law that was written by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and signed by Pres. Bill Clinton.
  • Criminal Justice Reform Bill
  • Banning Abortion at 20 weeks:  “A huge pro-life victory in Mississippi.”

Gov. Bryan talked at length about his biggest disappointment of the session, the failure to pass the special needs education bill (HB 765).  Saying it’s a “sorry day” and a “dark day” because public educators refused to release the funding to support 500 special needs children, he says the legislature turned their back on special needs children and he vows to make this a priority “from now on.”

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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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Gov. Bryant urges education vouchers (for special education)

Gov. Bryant is encouraging the Mississippi House of Representatives to approve House Bill 765, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.  Since special needs students trail all other students in graduation rates, HB 765 would provide education vouchers for those students under certain circumstances so the parents could choose the best location and type of education to meet their children’s unique needs.

If enacted, the program would fund qualified special education students at the MAEP base student cost plus a share of costs for special programs required by that student.

Passed in 1997 by the Democrat-controlled state legislature, Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is a formula that produces the base student cost to provide each student an “adequate education” in Mississippi.  Each district must provide up to 27% of that base cost through local revenues with the state funding the difference.

The Republicans now controlling the legislature have not funded education to the MAEP standard by $1.2 Billion since 2008–a point which the Democrats attempt to use against them.  In the current budget talks, the MAEP formula is underfunded by over $200 Million for 2015.

Back to vouchers. . . If education vouchers are good for special needs students, wouldn’t they be good for all students?

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