Many issues will be raised during the 2018 Mississippi Legislative Session, which begins Tuesday, January 2, 2018.

The Education Scholarship Account (ESA) is a hot item for concern — it was created in the 2015 session under the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act for a three-year cycle.

House District 121 Representative Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian was instrumental in garnering support of both chambers, as the final bill (Senate Bill 2695) became law.

An ESA is a program designed to give parents of children with special needs the option of withdrawing their child from the public-school system and receiving a designated amount of funds to help defray the cost of private school tuition or other specific allow-able activities to educate their child. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has been chosen to be the administrative team to execute this policy.

MDE is granted the responsibility of the application and the parents agree to five items for eligibility.

Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen, who has been behind this program from the start said, “Until every Mississippi child has access to quality education options, my work is not done.” Callen’s organization is in opposition with the further funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) that was signed into law in 1997.

When the question was addressed about public school funding, Pass Christian Superintendent Dr. Carla Evers stated, “It is the goal of the Pass Christian School District to meet the needs of every child whom we serve.” Going further, Evers expressed, “the education of our community’s children is an honor that we do not take lightly.”

One source from the West Harrison County School district who agreed to speak to The Gazebo Gazette off the basis of confidentiality due to their job, mentioned how the funding would not help unless there was a reliable program, such as the 3-D program for dyslexia in Petal, Mississippi.

“99% of the special needs kids on the Coast need the public school district because they offer the programs that could help special needs kids,” said this source.

“Private schools offer no resources right now and homeschool does not have enough elements to help these students grow.”

Many who are affected say if this program is not reviewed, the funding for this will go back in the MDE’s budget.

Story by Hunter Dawkins