By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden said on Friday he does not believe a bill considered by state lawmakers to aid special-needs students would benefit most of those who need it.
Responding to a question during his remarks to Tupelo’s Kiwanis Club, Loden said the idea of giving $6,000 a year to help special-needs children sounds good. However, he said, the requirement that recipients withdraw from public schools would prevent many families from using the funds.
For instance, he said, students with severe special needs may cost the school district as much as $50,000 to educate. He doesn’t think many private schools would accept those students for $6,000.
“I believe a lot of parents of special-needs children are excited when they hear they receive $6,000 to help children,” he said. “They think they would be allowed to use it for resources or to go to after-school tutoring, but the bill says you have to withdraw. At the end of the day, I think the bulk will stay in public schools because we are still the best deal for the dollars for the resources we provide.”
Both chambers of Mississippi’s Legislature passed different versions of the bill, which would provide funds to parents of special-needs children who withdraw from public schools to use for various educational expenditures, including tuition, fees, textbooks or accredited tutors. However, before it could become law, both chambers must again approve it.
Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, authored the Senate’s bill and has said that work is being done to tighten it. She spoke at a press conference and hearing in favor of it this week, as did parents of special education students from Tupelo.
Loden said the bill’s current form has many loopholes that concern him.
“Across Mississippi and across the nation, there is a big move to privatize schools,” he said. “This is a way to get the door cracked open. It sounds great but there are so many loopholes.”
Among those, Loden cited that once a student had a documented learning issue, he or she would receive the funds until high school graduation, even if that issue – say a speech impediment in first grade – had been corrected. Or, he said, if a student who received the funds decided to return to the public school in the middle of a year, the school would not get back any funding for that student.