Mississippi school choice looks murky

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2019

(AP) — It’s unclear whether Mississippi lawmakers will seek to expand charter schools or public subsidies for private schools in the current legislative session, even as proponents held a rally Tuesday to press for action.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, spoke at the event, where hundreds of students and parents gathered outside the Capitol. Reeves clearly called for more money for an existing program that pays private school tuition for students with special education needs.

“Let the Legislature find the money this year, so kids can go to the best school for them,” Reeves told the rally.

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Gunn said he’d consider more funding when lawmakers write budgets later in the session.

“We’ll just have to see what the dollars are,” Gunn told reporters after the event.

Empower Mississippi and other politically conservative groups that are seeking expansions to Mississippi’s options have been highlighting parents and students who have applied for what are called Education Scholarship Accounts but have been waitlisted for lack of money.

Right now, the program gets $3 million a year. Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen said he wants to see all students who qualify get funded. There are no maximum limits on students who get scholarships based on speech-language disabilities or dyslexia to attend a few special schools.

“This was not intended to be a separate line item appropriation that’s a fight every year,” Callen said.

A plan that would have allowed broader use of public money to pay private school tuition for any students died last year in the Senate. Gunn said he would look for Senate action before the House considers a measure.