The voucher bill passed the House on a 65-51 vote this afternoon. Important amendments were offered and rejected; see below for explanations of the amendments and vote reports showing how your representative voted. As recently as this morning, there were not enough yes votes for the leadership to bring the bill up for consideration. Between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., the governor and speaker were able to convince a sufficient number of reps to change their votes to get the bill passed.
Many legislators who stated repeatedly that they knew the bill was a bad one, and that it did not help children, voted for the bill in the end. Quite a few of you will be disappointed to find that reps who told you they were “no” votes did, in fact, vote yes. We know that many of them have been threatened with well-funded opponents by Empower PAC, the privatization group that has been running robocalls in some legislative districts. One legislator said from the podium today that he has a “bounty on his head” because he opposes the bill.
The bill has been held on a motion to reconsider for the purpose of adding an amendment to address a dangerous loophole in the bill. Chairman Moore acknowledged during questioning that this loophole allows anyone to purchase an “accreditation” from a counterfeit accreditation mill and open up shop to receive the vouchers, putting children at great risk. The bill provides absolutely no oversight for schools and, in fact, says their identities cannot be revealed. This puts in jeopardy children whose parents might be the victims of false advertising by those out to make a buck from this loosely written voucher bill – precisely what has happened in Florida. That can be fixed tomorrow if the bill is reconsidered.
Ask representatives to vote to reconsider SB 2695 for the purpose of an amendment.
Find contact information for the legislators who represent your school district here.
As you know, the voucher bill requires that, for a student to get a voucher, the student must have an IEP, must withdraw from public school, and must enroll in private school. But the private voucher school gets to pick and choose which students it serves and does not have to provide any special education services. The problems with that are obvious.
Rep. Nick Bain offered an amendment that would have solved those problems. His amendment would have created a fund to provide therapy, equipment, tutoring, respite care, and a whole range of other services to supplement services the child might already be receiving. Children in public, private, and home schools would all have been eligible to receive the funds. The amendment also placed an Autism Coordinator at the Mississippi Department of Education, something the Autism Advisory Panel has been requesting for years. That amendment was defeated. See the vote here.
Rep. David Baria offered an amendment that would have provided legal counsel and advocacy to parents of children with special needs who are having difficulty navigating the system. That amendment was defeated. See the vote here.
Rep. Tom Miles offered an amendment combining the voucher bill with the two previous amendments, and that failed on an unrecorded voice vote.
Some representatives had claimed to oppose the Bain amendment because the Department of Health (DOH) was the administrator of the fund in his version (parents of children with special needs had requested that DOH be named administrator). Rep. John Hines offered that same amendment with the administrator changed to the Mississippi Department of Education. That failed, too. See the vote here.
As you can see, every amendment that provided special education services was voted down in favor of a bill that funnels public funds to private and for-profit schools that are not required to provide special education services. As parents of children with disabilities have said repeatedly, most private schools don’t offer special education services, and the tuition will eat up the entire amount of the voucher, leaving nothing at all for services for children. You can see here which representatives voted for and against the voucher bill. (Click here to read about the Senate debate on special needs vouchers and to see how your senator voted.)
Please remember to thank the courageous legislators who over and over again resisted the pressure to vote for a privatization bill that leaves children without the services they need to be successful.
Legislators will have an opportunity tomorrow to protect these children from predators who seek to make a buck at the expense of children. We hope that they will at least amend the bill to ensure that the “schools” receiving taxpayer funds are real schools. Please ask your rep to ensure that they do.
As so many of you have lamented, this has been a dreadful legislative session for Mississippi children. We still have some battles left to fight, so hang with us for a little while longer. Thousands of other parents are with you, and they are finding creative ways to make their voices heard. Check out a couple of those at Fed Up With 50th and Mississippians for Public Education. Like their pages and leave a post – it will make you feel better! And please give your rep a call about amending the voucher bill on reconsideration; somebody has to look out for these kids, and there’s no one better than you!