/Who would have thought’ Senate leaders slip funding for private school scholarships into unrelated spending bill

Who would have thought’ Senate leaders slip funding for private school scholarships into unrelated spending bill

Nonprofit Mississippi News Many House and Senate Members were shocked to discover that $2 million was added to a bill to finance the Department of Finance and Administration to pay for a program that provides public funds to special needs children who wish to attend private schools. Both chambers passed the bill before many members were aware of the language that raised funding for the program from $3million to $5 million. Although attempts are being made to remove the language are likely to be made Friday, it appears that Speaker Philip Gunn as well as Lt. Gov. have voted to keep it. Tate Reeves voted for the bill’s funding increase. A conference report, which was an agreement between Senate and House leaders, contained a list of nearly 70 primarily local construction project costs, with a range of $10 million to $50,000. These projects also included the Education Scholarship Account money. The bill was presented to members by the leadership late Thursday. They did not disclose the amount of money that was used for vouchers. Robert Johnson (D-Natchez), asked, “Who would have thought that money for that was included in a DFA budget bill?” Johnson had earlier asked Johnson, D-Natchez, if additional funds were available to support the program in the budget bill. Johnson was told no. Buck Clarke (R-Hollanddale), Senate Appropriations Chair, stated that he didn’t tell the language but did give a list of projects included in the bill. Clarke stated that he believed someone would have inquired about the funding. Clarke said that he believes they looked for their local project first, before reading the entire list. Reeves stated that increasing the funding for the program was “a priority” of the lieutenant Governor. He also said Thursday night that he supported raising funds “to eliminate the wait list” for parents who “deserve an opportunity to be part in the program.” It is a great program. Members thought that they were funding it at $3 million, the same amount as last year through the Education budget bill. Gunn (R-Clinton) stated that the Senate prioritized the project, but that he knew the bill included it. Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson), one of three House negotiators, explained the bill to members before they voted. Then he said that he had read the language but that it didn’t stand out to him. He was also more concerned about the other parts of the bill. House Education Chair Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) told members that he opposed efforts by the Senate leadership for more funding for the program. Gunn called a meeting with his House Republican caucus after it became clear that the voucher language was included in the bill that was approved by members. Bennett left the meeting after the caucus meeting and was unable to be reached by reporters. Bennett left the caucus meeting and was unable to be reached by reporters. The program provides $6,500 scholarships for students with special needs to help them attend private schools. The scholarship recipients can either use the money to pay tuition upfront and get reimbursed or let the Mississippi Department of Education pay the school directly. Reeves and other Republican leaders support the program because it gives parents the option to choose the best educational environment for their child. Opponents claim that the program takes tax dollars away from the public schools system. Bennett refused to vote on a bill that would have extended its life, calling it “bad policy.” The program will end unless lawmakers extend it next year. Bennett said that he would not add any additional funding to the program this year, despite speculations circulating around Capitol. A December legislative report highlighted the need to have more oversight of the program. The Mississippi Department of Education has granted 851 ESA scholarships since its inception through lottery applications and initial applications. According to the report, the department has provided $9 million for the program in the nine years since its creation. About $4.8 million was distributed to parents and providers of services, while $310,000 was used for program administration. According to the report, the remaining funds were returned to state treasury. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.