The current iteration of the education funding bill underfunds public schools by $265-million.
Now legislators are pushing legislation that gives $6,000 vouchers to pay tuition at private schools or for school supplies, computers, and myriad other expenses for parents of children with special needs who agree not to enroll their children in public schools.
Many of the legislators who voted against adequate funding and for the voucher bills campaigned in the 2011 election on a platform of support for public schools.
The even deeper irony is that the very legislators who blast school districts for providing insufficient accommodations to children with special needs are among those who consistently vote against providing the funds to pay for those accommodations.
Children with special needs should have those needs met. The Legislature should provide schools the resources required to meet those needs.
The special education funding that each school district receives from both state and federal sources totals about $1,700 above what is provided each student through the MAEP base student cost. Federal law requires that every child be provided any accommodation for which he or she is eligible, regardless of the cost, though the district is not provided funds to cover that cost beyond the $1,700.
Districts routinely provide accommodations that cost much more than the funds they receive from other sources, sometimes as much as $50,000 – even $100,000 or more – per child, even though the funding the districts receive for those accommodations is limited to $1,700. The balance of that cost must come from somewhere, and that “somewhere” is the district’s MAEP allocation and local funding.
The majority of the cost of special education accommodations is paid for with MAEP funds, so when legislators vote to underfund the MAEP, they are voting to underfund special education accommodations. Every day, school districts are forced to make difficult decisions about which accommodations they can afford to provide with the limited resources they have. Federal law (and our moral obligation) says they must provide them all. Legislators refuse to fund them.
So, let’s ask our legislators these questions:
Are you going to vote to privatize and “profitize” public education?
Are you going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the voucher bills?
Are you going to vote to underfund the MAEP – and special education accommodations?
Capitol Switchboard: 601.359.3770
Lt. Governor Reeves Capitol: 601.359.3200
Speaker Gunn Capitol: 601.359.3300
The Parents’ Campaign was founded on the principle that every child should be afforded an excellent public education – every single child, regardless of ability or income or zip code. We remain committed to that principle and believe strongly in accountability for schools and school districts. Our record is clear on that front.
When school districts under-serve children, something should be done about it. Immediately. Schools should be held accountable.
Legislators also should be held accountable for their responsibility to our school children. For legislators to starve public schools of the resources needed to serve children well – and then publicly denounce those same schools for failing to provide the services that the Legislature refused to fund – is wrong.
A glaring and shameful omission in this debate has been the praise and tribute due the special education teachers across our state who pour their hearts and souls into seeing that their students meet their highest potential. They are among the hardest working, most committed people I know. To have their work denigrated in an effort to get public money to private schools that provide no special education services whatsoever is offensive.
The challenges faced by children with special needs and their families are very real and require urgent attention. Those problems can and must be resolved. These bills are not the way to do it. They hurt the very kids they purport to help, and they threaten to diminish public education for all Mississippi children. We cannot let that happen. Please make those calls today!