/Despite opposition, Legislature wraps up session by approving $2 million in voucher funding

Despite opposition, Legislature wraps up session by approving $2 million in voucher funding

Nonprofit Mississippi News Legislators worked Friday morning to get votes on a budget bill. It contained a $2million surprise for a private school education programme. However, they did this knowing that it also included $27.3 million for 70 districts in the state. Buck Clarke (R-Hollandale), Senate Appropriations Chair, urged his colleagues in the Senate to send the bill to the governor that morning as it was the last item before the end of the legislative session. He said, “If we don’t do that, we kill this bill.” The truth is that legislators could easily have sent the bill back to continue negotiations. In the last hours of the legislative session, the controversial language that provided $2 million more for the Education Scholarship Account (ESA program) was tucked in to the agency budget bill. The language could have been removed by lawmakers just as quickly. The shocking news that lawmakers had voted to fund the controversial voucher program, which uses public money to send special-needs children to private schools, shocked them. The allocation of $2 million was included in the public school cafeteria repair and road improvements. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves did not apologize for inserting this language into the bill. It would end the waiting list for special needs students who want to go to private schools. Reeves stated, “I don’t know if pushing this is good for my political career.” “But quite frankly, I don’t care. “But quite frankly, I don’t care. Senator Chad McMahan (R-Guntown) said that he was afraid to vote against Friday’s bill because it could affect funding for projects in his district. McMahan stated that he was against the ESA program but “nobody gets everything they want.” McMahan acknowledged, however, that he didn’t know the amount of money for private schools was included in the legislation when McMahan voted for it. Thursday night’s Senate floor vote passed the bill in less than a minute. Rep. Jerry Turner (R-Baldwyn) also stated that he didn’t know what the bill contained. He was asked if he was upset by that and replied that “It is not okay to shut down government” because he believed that the bill would die if it was not sent to the governor. It was the budget bill for Department of Finance and Administration. The state’s fiscal agent. If it wasn’t funded, government would be shut down. However, Sen. David Blount stated that the real problem was one of trust, regardless of whether private school funding is an issue. Blount (D-Jackson) said, “We must rely on each others (for information), as we take a ballot.” He said that it was obvious that most members didn’t know the language of the bill. The bill was sent to the governor three times in the House. A few Republican representatives voted in favor with a final vote of 55-51. The funding was unexpected to many, but Empower Mississippi has always been concerned about funding private school vouchers. This is despite the fact that efforts to change or expand the program were abandoned earlier in the session. Since 2015, the influential lobbying group has donated hundreds of thousand of dollars to Mississippi conservative lawmakers. The PAC of the influential lobbying organization donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative lawmakers in Mississippi since 2015. The PAC spent approximately $100,000 on the campaigns for Republican Reps. Dana Criswell and Dan Eubanks, Ashley Henley, Steve Hopkins, all of whom ran on the issue of expanding “school option” in Mississippi. However, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves has been the most fortunate to receive Empower’s generous support. Tate Reeves has received $45,000 since 2015 from Empower. This is Tate Reeves, who has received $45,000 from the organization since 2015. Mississippi Today learned that Jackson-based leadership told a group Jackson-based public school advocates that the 25 person rule would be enforced for their event. The Republican leadership acknowledged that “the optics were bad, but that the policy was good” and started enforcing it for all groups. Traditional public school advocates are furious, while school choice advocates rejoice at the addition of funding to the program. Joyce Helmick, president of Mississippi Association of Educators, said Friday that “Sneaking in the back door” is not how Mississippi should conduct business. We’re encouraging students to be honest and open with one another. Helmick explained that then, we send adults – we elected them and sent theirs – and they’re sneaky as top-notch bullying.” Helmick said, “When you steal something in that way, that’s bullying. Which is what we’re teaching our kids not to do.” Some aren’t happy about the decision. According to a December legislative report, 197 students were still on the waiting list for admission to the program as of June 2018. The report stated that many ESA participants from previous years will continue to take part in the program and that there is a limited number of education scholarships available. This means that new applicants are not likely to be able to access the program. Grant Callen, Empower president, stated in a statement that the additional funding was a “tremendous win” for parents on the ESA waitlist. Callen stated, “It’s a testament the power of moms throughout the state who raised the voice, told their stories and engaged in politics, and made sure that their elected leaders knew they were on the waitlist.” Alice Dillon, a Tylertown parent, said that she hoped that the additional funds would enable her son to be removed from the waitlist. Dillon said that Tate Reeves was the one who fought for Mississippi Today. “I’m a Democrat, but I support what he did,” Dillon said. Dillon’s 10-year old son Demyrion suffers from a genetic condition that makes it extremely difficult to educate him in a regular school setting. Dillon stated that she removed her son from Walthall County Public Schools District in 2016 and applied to an ESA scholarship. She has been homeschooling her son since then as he was repeatedly placed on the waitlist. She said that he learns differently than other children. Dillon stated that if her son is removed from the waitlist, she would consider moving to a place with private schools. Or, using the funds to pay for an online program. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.