New bill discussed
by Paisley Boston
Feb 15, 2014 | 1591 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Senators have passed a bill that creates a state voucher worth more than $6,000 for parents who withdraw their special education student from a Mississippi public school to a learning environment that caters specifically to the needs of the child.

In plain text, some lawmakers feel that public schools are not providing an adequate education for children with special needs.

Bill 2325 received 26-23 votes, and according to State Senator Willie Simmons, he was on the opposing team.

"I didn’t vote for it because I am well assured that our public schools do provide a great learning environment for special needs students. For the number of children that are currently receiving special education, I am sure that this bill would not work," he said.

"I think we need to try to take care of special needs children in any and every way that we can but when you say that you want to create a program that creates equal opportunities for special needs children, you may very well be putting the public school system in jeopardy," added Simmons.

Supporters say too many public school districts are doing a poor job educating special education students and parents need options including private school or home tutoring.

"The bill says that there will not be any restrictions as to where the child could receive special needs services from—the child could be taken to a private person or the money could be used for transportation—they could even go to a school out of the state," said Simmons.

The legislation would establish vouchers equal to the amount designated per student under the Mississippi Adequate Education Program plus "categorical funds" for special education.

The bill covers students who are currently enrolled in public schools, or are enrolling in elementary or high school for the first time, if they have an individualized education program.

"I really do not think that this would have a dramatic impact on the public school system because the money will be taken from general funds," he said.

"The good thing about the bill is that if your child or my child had real special needs in a public school district then the money could be used to take the burden off of the public school district that is trying to accommodate that student if they do not have the personnel to do so," added Simmons.

"In order for a child to be a recipient of the funds, they would need to go through a process of getting specific documents from a doctor or medical personnel to say that the child has special needs. The bill has no way of guaranteeing that a child will be accepted in the program," said Simmons.

In addition to students with such plans, up to 500 students protected from discrimination by federal law because of disabilities would be able to apply.

"Let's just say if the last child that needs this assistance or funds is your child and you get a voucher for the money deposited into an account but my child has a need but there is no money for my child," he added.

"I would feel that my child has been wronged because he or she is deprived of the same opportunity as your child—the law says that it is suppose to be for every child," he continued.

According to Simmons, for a child to qualify, he or she will be required to go through a specific screening.

After receiving information or documentation about the child's disability, the Department of Education must review it to determine whether or not the child is eligible.

Simmons said if the child were approved for the program then the department of education would deposit up $6,000 in an account for the child.

"There would be an account setup and the state department would write a check to that account and that money would be available annually until the child graduates from high school," said Simmons.

"Depending on how many special needs children would be identified you could be talking about millions and millions of dollars that we don’t necessarily have," he added.

"We could be looking at spending over $200 million dollars per year to accommodate all of the children that receive special education," Simmons continued.

Simmons said that he is very concerned with trying to ensure that each child receives an adequate education and lawmakers should take certain aspects into consideration before making laws that are based the educational system.

"Our education system needs so much and I think we really need to look at ways to address the needs of many to improve our educational system," added Simmons.

"Of course no one wants to be against taking care of the needs of special needs children but I think we have to be careful as to how we are going go about it. We need to find a program a program that does not leave any children out regardless of the types of special needs that they have," he continued.

Although the bill is still up for grabs, according to Director of Special Services for the Cleveland School District Merkeita Brinkley, the Cleveland School District does an excellent job at providing an adequate education for children with special needs.

"We have over 500 children in the Cleveland School District that receive some form of special education – we also serve the local head starts," she added.

"We serve students from ages three to 21. We have inclusion services, self contained classrooms, speech and language teachers and we also have services for visually impaired students," she continued.

According to Brinkley, special education services are expensive.

"Lawmakers should consider instructional services, services in the classroom and materials. There are not any schools in the Mississippi Delta that cater strictly to the needs of children with special needs," she added.

Brinkley also said that at this point she is undecided about her position on the bill.

New bill discussed