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House Republican leadership files school voucher bills

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House Republican leadership files school voucher bills

Feb 21, 2024 | 3:36 pm ET
By Bobby Harrison
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House Republican leadership files school voucher bills
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Photo courtesy of Mississippi Today

Even as the Mississippi Supreme Court considers whether it is constitutional for the state to provide public fund to private schools, the House leadership is filing legislation to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools.

House Education Committee Chairman Rob Roberson, a Republican from Starkville, has filed legislation to allow vouchers — public funds to private schools — with no limitations.

But Roberson stressed that he is not sure what if any voucher legislation will pass this session. He said he filed the legislation “to start a conversation.”

But during an interview earlier this week on the SuperTalk radio network, Republican House Speaker Jason White seemed more committed to a limited voucher program. White advocated for vouchers for students in low-performing D and F schools.

“In D and F districts, we want that child to go anywhere they can find, whether public, private, charter, home school, whatever,” White said, adding that state funds would follow the students wherever they went. “If they are in a D and F district, we want to open their choice all the way.”

He said in states that have “universal choice,” like Arizona, a vast majority of students remain in the public school.

A lawsuit is currently pending before the Mississippi Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of providing public money to private schools. The Mississippi Constitution states that public funds shall not go to any school “not conducted as a free public school.” The lawsuit is not expected to be decided by the Supreme Court before the Legislature is scheduled to end the 2024 session in May.

READ MORE: Supreme Court hears oral arguments in lawsuit challenging public money to private schools

It is questionable how much momentum there is this session for an expansive voucher program. In his budget plan, Gov. Tate Reeves only recommended expanding by $1.8 million a program that provides public funds for some special needs children to attend private schools.

What House and Senate leaders have talked the most about is expanding public school choice, especially in low performing school districts — as White said this week.

Under current law, there is limited public school choice. But in most instances, both public school districts must agree to the student transfer before it can go forward.

White proposed that a school district not be able to hold “a student against their will.”

READ MORE: Lawmakers spent public money on private schools. Does it violate the Mississippi Constitution?