March 26, 2015 - Mississippi Center for Public Policy President Forest Thigpen commended the Mississippi Legislature for passing the "Equal Opportunity for Children with Special Needs" bill, Senate Bill 2695. The bill is now on its way to Governor Bryant, who has promised to sign it.
"This bill will provide children with disabilities the opportunity to receive the education that best suits their needs," Thigpen said. He said a new mechanism created by this bill, called an Education Scholarship Account (ESA), "is the boldest step yet in giving parents more choice and transformational control over their children’s education."
With an ESA, parents will be able to choose among a variety of educational services, including specialized therapy, tutoring, software, and other methods of meeting the educational needs of their child. Parents will be able to choose whether to allocate some or all of the money for tuition at a private school.
Thigpen said ESAs are different from vouchers. "With a voucher," he said, "the entire amount would be allocated to one school, even if the child would be better served by utilizing a variety of options. ESAs allow that type of customization."
Over the past four years, Mississippi legislators have empowered parents and students by implementing transformational education reforms, such as charter schools, A-F ratings, the third-grade reading gate, and two voucher programs limited to speech and hearing disabilities.
"Legislators who voted for these reforms are listening to parents and should be commended," Thigpen said. "In some cases, they faced the wrath of school administrators and others who advocate mere tweaks to the current system. These legislators correctly see that parents don’t have time to wait for the bureaucrats to get it right. Their children need options now so that their children have the best future possible."
SB2695 is targeted to children with special needs, but Thigpen believes this type of parental choice will gain popularity and will eventually be available for all children.
"All children are unique, and all children should have the chance to receive an education that equips them for a fulfilling life," he said. ESAs put parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education and future.
"Parents are ultimately responsible for the education and upbringing of their children," Thigpen said, "and they should have the tools they need to exercise that responsibility. If parents believe the public schools are not providing the education their children need, they should be allowed the flexibility offered by ESAs to pursue other options."
Thigpen noted the effort of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Nancy Collins and Rep. Carolyn Crawford. "These legislators, as mothers of children with special needs, have a special understanding of the need for this legislation, and they have worked for years to achieve this. On behalf of the parents of Mississippi children with special needs, we are grateful for their dedication and perseverance."