by Jonathan Butcher
Leah Ferretti went back to school so that she could help her son with his education. Both her son and her husband have dyslexia, and Leah wasn’t satisfied with the services at their local traditional school.
At a Mississippi Senate hearing in January, I spoke to senators about creating learning opportunities for children with education savings accounts alongside Leah and Robert Enlow from EdChoice. Leah’s comments stole the show: “You will sell your soul to make sure your child is going to be OK,” she said.
“I refuse to be told we don’t have a choice that someone else knows what’s better for my family, for my children,” Ferretti said. “That’s why we deserve a choice for our families.”
Today, Mississippi lawmakers have the chance to consider a proposal to give children across the state new learning opportunities through education savings accounts. Mississippi is one of six states with an account law. Similar to the accounts in Arizona, Mississippi students use a portion of their funds from the education formula in a private bank account that parents use to buy educational products and services for their children.
Since 2015, Mississippi’s children with special needs have been eligible to apply for the accounts. The program is currently capped at just over 400 students, and the state department of education has had to keep a waiting list based on the number of applications.
The proposal before state senators will allow all current public school students the chance to apply for an account, along with incoming kindergarteners and first graders, children in military families, adopted children, and siblings of existing account holders. The proposal also changes the cap to a figure equivalent to one-half of one percent of the statewide public school enrollment (equal to approximately 2,500 children).
Activity involving education savings accounts is happening around the country in 2018. Lawmakers in New Hampshire, Missouri, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania are among the policymakers considering new account laws.
And just yesterday, my colleague at The Heritage Foundation, Lindsey Burke, and EdChoice’s Jason Bedrick released a study of Florida’s accounts (called Gardiner Scholarships) that finds 42 percent of account holders use their accounts to customize their child’s learning experience.
Lindsey and I have found similar results among Arizona account holders. These studies demonstrate that among education savings account families in two different states, states with different eligibility guidelines, one-third or more of participating families used the accounts to choose multiple learning options—the unique feature of education savings accounts that distinguishes the accounts from traditional schools and private school scholarships.
If the Mississippi Senate does not take up the proposal today, this expansion may be finished for the session. The accounts will still be in place for children with special needs, but with regular waiting lists, families are calling for more space.
Jonathan Butcher is a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute.