Most ESA bills die in committee stage

As yesterday’s deadline for bills to pass out of the committee stage came and went, all but one bill dealing with the state’s ‘Special Needs Education Scholarship Account’ (ESA) program died.

Created in 2015, the ESA program provides up to $6,500 for parents seeking to find a new school for their child upon receiving a special needs diagnosis from their school district. Several bills were introduced in both the House and Senate to help resolve funding issues and to create solutions to serve more students, but advocates of those bills will have to wait until next year.

The only bill that made it through the Senate Education Committee was Sen. Gray Tollison’s bill, which extends the program through 2024, but it does not make any changes.

The program currently serves around 430 students with over 200 on a waiting list. Stacey Ware is a parent with a waitlisted student, and after the bills died, a post on her Facebook page detailed her disappointment in lawmakers.

“I have never been so disappointed with our legislators and our state as a whole. Our special needs children deserve more than the leftovers or crumbs on the floor. They are valuable members of society who deserve just as much as everyone else. Open your eyes and your heart. You are missing out on a blessing because you fail to see their beauty and potential. You haven’t heard the last of this Mama Bear. I will continue to roar. I might even run for office and take your job since you can’t seem to do it,” Ware’s post partially said. 

At a recent ‘School Choice” rally at the Capitol, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves spoke in favor of an expansion of school choice in Mississippi, and Governor Bryant also publicly supported the cause.

Similar bills died in the committee stage of the 2018 legislative session as well.