OUR OPINION: Special education bill failed in its adequacy

The Mississippi House on Wednesday defeated a bill that would have allowed the payment of public school funds to private schools to defray expenses of special education students but without any requirement that the private schools paid actually have a special education program to meet the students’ needs.

The 63-57 bipartisan vote reflects the intense debate inside and outside the Legislature leading up to deadline week.

The bill as written should be defeated if it is brought up on the motion to reconsider made by House Education Chairman John Moore, a Rankin County Republican.

The bill, whose strong supporters and authors include Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, would open the door to a gradual widening of the number of children who could be taken out of public schools with $6,000 in taxpayers’ money to enroll in a private school, but it has no requirement that a private school have adequate special program resources and teachers in place to meet special education needs. Without accountability the bill is nothing more than an authorization of payment of public money to private schools, and that must be avoided.

Many education support groups and individuals, some with extensive knowledge of the costs and programs of special education, have said the $6,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the real costs of special education services.

A better idea would be to kill the conference report and establish a bipartisan inclusive study committee to examine special education issues for real costs and their adequacy as practiced in public schools. The study should include identifying fully all private schools in Mississippi having special education curriculum that is at least equivalent to the public schools – not promised but in place.

We agree with former school principal and longtime teacher Martha Cheney of the Tupelo area – who has had extensive dealing with special education students, parents and programs – that the issue is virtual “sacred ground.”

Because it is so important any legislation changing the basics of special education methods should be at least strongly supported.

The conference report on House Bill 765 fails to meet those standards, and it should be defeated.