PFPS Releases Policy Brief on Mississippi’s Failed Voucher Program and Calls for Investment in State’s Public Schools

A new policy brief from Public Funds Public Schools finds that Mississippi’s Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program is an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars and should not be continued.

PFPS is a national campaign to ensure that public funds for education are exclusively used to maintain and support public schools. PFPS opposes all forms of private school vouchers, including ESAs and tax credit vouchers, and other diversions of public funds from public education.

Mississippi’s ESA voucher program was enacted in 2015 as a five-year pilot to test the effectiveness of voucher programs in the state. The program places taxpayer dollars in private accounts that can be used by families of students with disabilities for private school tuition or other private education expenses. Students must give up most of their special education rights under state and federal law when they use this voucher.

In preparing the voucher policy brief, PFPS reviewed studies of Mississippi’s voucher program and similar programs across the country and found ample evidence demonstrating that the Mississippi pilot voucher program should not be extended.

For example, Mississippi’s Joint Legislative Commit­tee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) assessed the voucher program and concluded it lacks the accountability necessary to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving the services they need. The PEER report also found that approximately one-third of funds for ESA vouchers went unused because families could not find a private school to meet their children’s needs.

An analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) of 27 voucher programs across the country found Mississippi’s ESA voucher program ranked among the worst in terms of accountability mechanisms for academic performance, program administration, and fiscal viability. Studies also showed that, even in states with somewhat stronger accountability requirements, such as Alabama and Louisiana, voucher programs do not help students academically.

PFPS’s policy brief concludes that Mississippi should devote state resources to the public schools, which go underfunded year after year.

“Legislators should follow the evidence when making decisions about how to use limited public funds,” said Jessica Levin, PFPS Director and Senior Attorney at Education Law Center. “Research points to best practices that have been shown to improve student outcomes, including smaller class sizes, increased access to technology, and more school counselors. As the studies reviewed by PFPS illustrate, the ESA voucher program is demonstrably not an effective use of public funds.”

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