The Mississippi Legislature has made substantial initial progress toward education enhancement so far in the 2014 session, especially House approval this week of a multiyear $4,250 pay raise for teachers.
The vote on final passage was strongly bipartisan in favor of the bill.
That raise of course must be approved in the Senate, and that is not certain, but there’s a reasonable level of confidence it can be done.
Other education-related legislation alive and in process is not as encouraging.
Three voucher bills have passed out of committee, and all three, by virtue of being vouchers, demand scrutiny and defeat.
The voucher battle is not new in Mississippi.
The three bills headed for further action need to be defeated because tweaking the public purse and favoring private schools is a recipe for damaging controversy and weakening of the public schools.
The proposals would allow diversion of taxpayer dollars to private, virtual, and other nonpublic schools to pay the cost of tuition and activities, but with no accountability to taxpayers, as described by the Parents’ Campaign, a public school advocacy organization.
Mississippi has not fully funded public schools as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program requires, and any process leading to public money for private education should be stopped or not expanded.
HB 831 would expand an existing law, increasing the voucher funding diverted from public to private schools. What is being framed as a technical amendment is really a significant expansion of the students who qualify for the voucher, thus more money for private schools from the public purse. We urge legislators to vote no.
The legislation HB 765 and SB 2325 (broadly called the Individual Education Fund) deal with special education and would provide nonpublic school parents debit-type cards, “pre-loaded with taxpayer funds, that they can use to pay tuition to private schools and for-profit providers with no accountability. The implication is that private school vouchers would be the equivalent of the fully funded MAEP amount – well above the underfunded amount that the rest of our children would receive,” as the Parents’ Campaign describes.
Vouchers drawn on the public purse for private schools are an invitation to weakening of the general commitment to public schools.
The teacher pay raise is the right direction; vouchers are the wrong direction.