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School Choice Enrollment Continues To Grow In Mississippi

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Enrollment in a school choice program in Mississippi grew by about 40 percent over the previous year despite the fact that programs were not greatly expanded last year in the legislature.

Mississippi currently has four school choice programs available, all enacted within the past five years. This includes public charter schools and three private school choice programs: the Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA), the Dyslexia Scholarship, and the Speech Language Therapy Scholarship.

A Review Of Current Programs

Program 2016-2017 2017-2018
Charter Schools 527 964
Special Needs ESA 425 430
Dyslexia Scholarship 159 202
Total 1,111 1,596

Charter Schools: Mississippi’s three charter schools nearly doubled enrollment this year as each school continues to add grades. And these numbers will continue to grow as the state approved a new charter school, Clarksdale Collegiate, which will open for grades K-2 next year. It will also become the first charter school in the state to open outside of Jackson.

Special Needs ESA: This program, created in 2015, allows parents of students with an Individualized Education Plan to use tax dollars on a variety of education expenses outside of public education, including private school tuition and fees, textbooks, therapy, etc. The program is currently serving 430 students, the maximum number of slots available this year. For the second straight year, a lottery needed to be held because there were more applicants than seats available.

Dyslexia Scholarship: Mississippi’s first school choice program, which serves students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, has 202 students this fall, up from 159 last year. This program was slightly expanded last year, allowing students through 12th grade to utilize the scholarship. However, a broader bill that would have allowed more schools to participate in the program was defeated.

Waiting Lists Continue To Grow

Because of level funding, the Special Needs ESA could not grow to meet demand this year.  Even though very little has been publicized about the program, more families want to participate than ever.

In fact, the number of families on the waiting grew by 60 percent compared to the last school year as almost 200 families were left on the waiting list this year.

Despite being limited in scope and size, Mississippi’s school choice programs have been popular and grown each year. The legislature should recognize this demand from parents and work to make school choice options available to all families in the state who would like to have a choice in their child’s education.