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Mississippi House Republicans file bills to use public tax dollars to provide vouchers for students who attend private schools

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House Speaker Jason White recognizes dignitaries in attendance for Gov. Tate Reeves' inauguration ceremony at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Mississippi House Republicans want to use public tax dollars to provide vouchers for students who attend private schools.

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 MORESupreme 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.”

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This report was written by Bobby Harrison and originally published at Mississippi Today

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