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Mississippi Special Education Voucher Bill Defeated

The Mississippi House of Representatives defeated a bill that would have created a $6,000 "individualized education fund" for some special education students that their parents could then use for private school, online courses, or tutoring. 

The Senate did not take up House Bill 765 after it failed on a 63-57 vote Wednesday, which doomed the measure for this legislative session. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in the House to ensure the bill's defeat. 

The bill had gone through several changes as supporters tried to tailor it to appease critics, the Associated Press reportedA provision was added that banned the money from being used for home schooling. The bill also limited to 500 the number of students who could use the fund in its first year, and would not have allowed students with 504 plans, who may have health or cognitive problems but are not covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to use the fund. But the bill was opposed by school superintendents and by others who are against vouchers. 

"It was not for the children," Rep. Pat Nelson, a Republican lawmaker, told the AP. "It was presented that way, but it opened the door for private school vouchers statewide, and my constituents did not send me down here to vote for that."

Supporters said that parents needed an escape hatch from schools that have failed to educate students with disabilities. An analysis of graduation-rate data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education shows that in 2011-12, 75 percent of Mississippi students graduated in 4 years with a standard diploma, compared with 32 percent of students with disabilities. In later interviews, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education said that the graduation rate data that the Education Department collected was incorrect, and in reality, only 23 percent of students with disabilities graduated in four years with a standard diploma in 2011-12. 

"Our children need options," advocate Mandy Rogers told the Associated Press in an article written when the bill was still under consideration. 

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