OUR OPINION: Vote no on bills funding private school education

By NEMS Daily Journal

Deadline action on two controversial educations bills could happen today, and if either come to a vote, it should be no. Both would amount to an uncompensated withdrawal from either the state’s general fund or program funds of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
House Bill 1004, in the context of a committee substitute of the original bill, would fund special-needs scholarships in private schools by parents’ requests – even if the private schools don’t have any kind of special education program to directly address students’ documented needs like autism spectrum disorder.
In addition, it would allow transfers to other public schools if those schools and districts have the capacity for the students.
The private-school transfers amount to vouchers funded from MAEP resources. MAEP is the core of support for every public school statewide. The bill invites a dangerous drain on taxpayer-generated education monies with no offset to replace the funds.
House Bill 906 would provide outright scholarships to private schools if money is donated to the state for that purpose, with donors compensated through an equal income tax credit, again with no offset to replace money taken from the general fund.
The larger concern is a failure to seek improvement for every student in the context of public schools even as some progressive measures have sailed through for the start of Mississippi’s first state-backed pre-K education and a plan to allow public schools’ release from unproductive bureaucratic rules stifling higher achievement and helpful innovation.
Nothing is accomplished when the goal of legislation is to divert support from the needs of all school children for the benefit of a special few separated by legislative decree.
In addition, Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution prohibits public vouchers for private schools, and any proposal transferring money from the public purse to private schools should be viewed – and if necessary, challenged – in that context.
Despite claims to the contrary, there’s no groundswell of public support for vouchers or school choice in Mississippi. The overwhelming majority of all school-aged children in our state is in public schools.
The larger problem is the Legislature’s refusal to fund education as mandated and all the while incessantly looking for ways to dismantle public education before full state effort has been applied to improving it and resolving its shortfalls for all students.