Hundreds of students with disabilities in Mississippi have a much-needed opportunity: the option to choose a school that serves their needs. In 2015, Mississippi enacted an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program for special needs students. The program provides scholarships so students can attend a school of their choice. The program served just under 200 students in its first two years and about 350 students in 2018 and 2019.
Unfortunately, students with disabilities here in Missouri don’t have the same options. Just a year after Mississippi’s program was passed, Missouri passed an ESA program called Bryce’s Law for students with disabilities. But the program was not properly designed, so not one student has benefitted from it. In Missouri, unless a family can afford a private education, students with disabilities must remain in their assigned schools.
The difference between Missouri and Mississippi in educational freedom for students with disabilities grew even starker this year. The Mississippi state legislature recently approved an additional two million dollars of scholarship funding for the next school year. This funding will support scholarships for students who have been on the program’s wait list.
Students with disabilities face unique obstacles. Finding a school with the right programs, services and resources is vital. States like Mississippi are supporting their students with disabilities through ESAs. Meanwhile, Missouri has a scholarship program with no scholarship money. Bryce’s Law will sunset at the end of this year, giving the legislature an opportunity to pass a properly funded scholarship program next year. Isn’t it time for Missouri to support students with disabilities by allowing them greater opportunities to get the education they need?