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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Congressional District 1 special election field set (and crowded)

There is no shortage of candidates for Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District seat which was vacated when Alan Nunnelee died in February. The following candidates qualified for the non-partisan special election on May 12th:

  • Boyce Adams, Columbus businessman
  • Sam Adcock, Columbus businessman
  • Nancy Collins, State Senator
  • Ed Holliday, Tupelo dentist
  • Starner Jones, Pontotoc ER physician
  • Trent Kelly, Saltillo District Attorney
  • Chip Mills, Itawamba County prosecuting attorney
  • Greg Pirkle, Tupelo attorney
  • Henry Ross, Eupora attorney and former Mayor
  • Daniel Sparks, Oxford attorney
  • Mike Tagert, Northern District Transportation Commissioner
  • Quentin Whitwell, Oxford attorney and former Jackson city councilman
  • Walter Howard Zinn, Jr., Pontotoc attorney

Danny Bedwell, a businessman from Columbus, announced intentions to run but failed to qualify by gathering the required 1,000 signatures by the March 27th deadline.

If needed, a runoff election will be June 2.

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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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Clarion-Ledger: Bryant, Reeves declare legislative victory at deadline

Bryant, Reeves declare legislative victory at deadline

Geoff Pender, The Clarion-Ledger, 03 Feb 2015

With Tuesday night’s deadline, both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves were declaring success, with most of their legislative agenda’s surviving the deadline for passage from committee.

A spokeswoman for Bryant said his legislative agenda is “full steam ahead,” and provided this list:

Alive and subject to today’s deadline:

Mississippi Works Fund, $50 million for workforce training (SB2457, HB 911)

MS Works Scholarship, $3 million for career tech students (SB2452, HB950)

Common Core Reform (SB2161)

Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act (SB2695, HB394)

Government Reform: change composition of Contract Review Board (SB2553, HB825)

Government Reform: move Inmate Canteen Fund to Treasurer’s Office (SB2521, HB400)

Government Reform: move Ag leasing to Secretary of State (SB2562, HB403)

Government Reform: require DFA sign off on emergency contracts (SB2400, HB1137)

Measures to require casinos to seize gaming earnings of parents who owe back child support and to fund state trooper training did not pass committee. As long as the code sections are open, these efforts are not “dead, dead, dead”

Reeve’s office released:

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ agenda proposals, which include bringing transparency to state purchases and eliminating the vehicle inspection sticker, cleared Senate committees by today’s deadline. The Senate will consider bills over the next week

Lt. Gov. Reeves said he appreciated the support of senators on initiatives aimed at eliminating wasteful spending and making government more efficient.

“We’ve taken a strong first step in making real reforms happen in several areas of government that have been neglected for too long,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “We need bold reforms to make a difference for taxpayers.”

His agenda included Senate Bill 2553, by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, to tighten state contracting laws and increase scrutiny on government purchases. The bill remakes the Personal Service Contract Review Board, requires a biannual review of procurement practices by the legislative watchdog committee, and ensures pricing details and terms of contracts are public records.

Other bills on Lt. Gov. Reeves’ agenda include:

·Senate Bill 2519, by Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, eliminating the vehicle inspection sticker.

·Senate Bill 2407, by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, placing public hospital boards under the Open Meetings Act

·Senate Bill 2481, by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, improving care for the mentally ill.

·Senate Bill 2161, by Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, ensuring high academic standards for Mississippi students.

·Senate Bill 2695, by Sen. Collins, providing school choice for special needs children

·Senate Bill 2394, by Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, reducing concealed carry permit fees.

·Senate Bill 2619, by Sen. Haskins Montgomery, D-Bay Springs, recognizing military training for firearm permits.

The Daily Journal summarizes state’s 2014 legislative session

Bobby Harrison of the Daily Journal runs down the significant events of the 2014 legislative session with a two-part series:

  1. Teacher pay, justice reform biggest achievements
  2. School districts still in budget hole

In his first story, Harrison provides a recap of the following issues that the legislature tackled during the session:

  • Teacher Pay:  Initially promoted by Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), the bill provides $2,500 pay raise over 2 years.  The senate finalized the language which, under Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ leadership cut out performance requirements.
  • Criminal Justice Reform:  Sweeping reforms resulting from recommendations of judges, prosecutors, district attorneys, law enforcement and local officials.  Estimated to save $266 Million over 10-years.
  • Special Needs Payments:  Promoted by Sen. Nancy Collins (R-Tupelo), the proposal failed largely due to objections over giving “education vouchers.”
  • Religious Freedom:  Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed even after firestorm in Arizona.  Legislation changed to prevent the government from being able to force someone to take action against their religious beliefs.
  • Bonds:  $199.9 Million in new bonds were approved for Cooper Tire in Tupelo, a Tammy Wynette Museum in Tremont, the William Faulkner/Union Heritage Museum in New Albany, and renovations to Okolona College.
  • Texting:  After looking like ban on texting while driving would pass, Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson) entered a motion to reconsider which effectively killed the bill since efforts to table the motion were defeated.
  • Medicaid Expansion:  Republican leadership continues to oppose medicare expansion.  Both the House and the Senate rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid as is allowed under Obamacare (to cover those earning 138% of the federal poverty level).
  • Judges, Law Enforcement:  Added 16 assistant district attorneys, 50 new Highway Patrol troopers, added funds for the state Crime Lab.

The second story focuses on the budget.  According to Harrison, the $2.4 Billion public education budget was an increase of $85 Million over the previous year.  The current education budget is $255 Million short of the funding formula based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

In all, the 2014 $6 Billion general fund budget was an increase of about $200 Million over 2013.

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