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Senate education committee advances ESA expansion

Exterior of the Mississippi State Capitol building at dawn in Jackson, Mississippi

Today, the Senate Education Committee advanced legislation that will provide parents with more options for the education of their children.

Senate Bill 2623, authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison (R-Oxford), will expand the current Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program to most students in Mississippi. The proposed legislation will give priority to students with special needs and low-income students.

“Today’s vote in the Senate Education Committee is a major step toward ensuring that high quality educational opportunities are available to all students,” Grant Callen, president of Empower Mississippi said. “By expanding the ESA program, we can give families the freedom to customize an education to meet the unique educational needs of their children. I commend Sen. Tollison for his hard work in providing every family in Mississippi with access to a high quality education.”

The ESA program allows parents to use the state education funds allocated for that child on education-related expenses, including private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring, transportation fees, online learning programs, education therapy, etc.

The program expands eligibility to all current public school students and students entering kindergarten or first grade. Currently, only students with an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, are eligible to participate in Mississippi’s ESA program. Students with a parent in the military on active duty or killed in the line of duty, students in and adopted out of the foster care system, and siblings of participating students would also be eligible.

The scholarship amount for students with special needs will remain the same, at about $6,500, while the scholarship for all others will be set at 95 percent of the base student cost. Program enrollment will be capped at 0.5 percent of current public school enrollment, which is less than 2,500 students, the first year, and the cap will increase by an additional 1 percent of total public school enrollment each year thereafter.