Legislators had opportunities to provide real help for children with special needs, but instead, chose to focus on legislation that provides our most vulnerable children no assurance of special services at all. Yesterday was the deadline for bills to move forward out of legislative committees. Here is a recap of what legislators could have done, but did not do, for children with special needs and what remains on the calendar for further action.
What legislators could have done for children with autism:
Two bills, HB 814 and HB 656, were allowed to die in the House Education Committee, never having been brought up for discussion, that would have improved services for children with autism spectrum disorder by creating a new position of statewide coordinator/director of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) services in public schools. This position is intended to provide oversight of special education services related to ASD and to facilitate enhanced training on ASD treatment and educational strategies for general and special education teachers and staff. This position has been requested for three consecutive years by the state Autism Advisory Committee, which submits recommendations to the Legislature every year.
What legislators could have done for all children with disabilities:
Improve special education services in Mississippi’s public schools by separating special education funding from the MAEP lump sum, which would have ensured that school districts’ special education services are funded transparently at the state and local level. This provision is in HB 814, which was allowed to die in the House Education Committee, never having been brought up for discussion.
HB 814 also would have created a fund to provide financial assistance to all families of children with special needs, whether they be in public school, private school, or home school. The “Children with Special Needs Fund” is designed to help families pay for the extensive costs of therapies and equipment of their children with disabilities ages 3 through 21. This provision is not included in any other bill.
What is moving forward in the legislative process:
- Two bills, HB 394 and SB 2695, that would provide vouchers to pay private school tuition for children with disabilities to attend non-public schools that are not required to provide special education services or in any way meet the needs of children. Both bills specify that the private schools receiving state tax dollars will be subjected to no oversight or accountability for the quality of education and care they provide to children with disabilities.
- Two bills, HB 885 and SB 2581, that would require health insurance policies to cover screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism.
What you can do now:
- Ask legislators to vote NO on HB 394 and SB 2695. These are the voucher bills that will use state tax dollars to pay tuition for children with special needs to attend private schools that do not offer special education services.
- Ask legislators to support HB 885 and SB 2581 to require health insurance policies to cover screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism.