- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi senators have agreed to let a small percentage of special education students use public money to go to private schools.

Senators voted 30-18 Thursday to pass the final version of Senate Bill 2695, which would create $6,500-a-year vouchers. Up to 500 special education students could receive a voucher the first year, and the program would increase by 500 a year until it reaches 2,500 students.

The money could be used for private school tuition, tutoring or therapy related to education.

Supporters said the vouchers, or scholarships, would offer hope to children whose needs are not being met by public schools. Opponents said vouchers would help too few of Mississippi’s nearly 66,500 special-needs students.

Sen. John Hohrn, D-Jackson, held the bill for another possible round of debate after it passed Thursday. However, it appears unlikely that opponents will stop it from going to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who plans to sign it.

“Special needs students deserve the opportunity to succeed, and this bill gives parents the power to provide additional resources to help their children obtain the education and support they need,” Bryant said in a news release.

Some lawmakers object to using tax dollars to pay for private education.

“If you care about students with special needs, this bill doesn’t do very much for them,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.

Bryan argued that legislators should try to improve special education services for all students who need them rather than for a small number who could receive vouchers.

Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, said a federal law enacted 40 years ago requires services for children with disabilities, and Mississippi has fallen short on its obligations.

“I think 40 years is long enough to wait for all special needs children to get their unique educational needs met,” Collins said Thursday.

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Online: Senate Bill 2695, https://bit.ly/1ykivgm

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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