Analysis of SB 2325 – Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act; created to establish IEFs for certain students.

Creates Individualized Education Funds (IEFs) for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and for students eligible for a Section 504 accommodation.

IEFs for Section 504-eligible students are limited to 2,500 per year.

A student is eligible for a Section 504 accommodation if he/she has any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities are listed in the Americans with Disabilities Act and include learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, speaking, sleeping, bending, caring for one’s self, lifting, walking, standing, hearing, seeing, etc. Included in the definition are major bodily functions such as respiratory, digestive, bowel/bladder, neurological, endocrine, and many others.

Some of the impairments that would qualify a student for a Section 504 accommodation include: food allergies (milk, nuts, shell fish, gluten), chemical allergies (perfume, cleaning agents), obesity, broken arm or leg, gender identity disorder, stuttering, insomnia, poor oral health, nightmare disorder, mild speech disorders (a kindergartner having trouble saying Rs or Ss), poor vision, hearing loss, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD mild to severe), incontinence, eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, etc.), any chronic illness (urinary tract problems, asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, persistent cold, arthritis, blood disorders, etc.), depression, anxiety, behavior disorder, and many others.

​There is no limit on IEFs for students with IEPs. Approximately 65,000 students in Mississippi have IEPs.

Provides fully funded Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) base student cost amount plus the average per student state categorical aid funds for all students with IEFs. (Note: Students eligible for a section 504 accommodation who do not have an IEP are not eligible for state categorical aid in public schools. Public schools students have not received full MAEP funding since Fiscal Year 2008.)

​All participating students will be awarded full IEF amount, regardless of whether or not the student would qualify for state categorical aid in a public school.

​IEF funds may be used to cover the cost of:

· Tuition or fees at a non-public, for-profit, virtual, or other participating school;
· Textbooks required by a participating school;
· A tutor accredited by a state, regional, or national accrediting organization;
· Curriculum, including any supplemental materials required by the curriculum;
· Fees for transportation (Note: If low-income children spend funds on transportation, they will have no funds left to pay tuition, and vice versa);
· Tuition or fees for a nonpublic online learning program or course;
· Fees for nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement tests, including alternate assessments;
· Fees for Advanced Placement examinations or similar courses and any examinations related to college or university admission;
· Educational services for students with disabilities from a licensed or accredited practitioner or provider, including licensed or accredited paraprofessionals or educational aides;
· Services provided by a public school, including individual classes and extracurricular programs;
· Contributions to a Coverdell Education Savings Account;
· Tuition or fees at an eligible postsecondary institution;
· Textbooks required for courses at an eligible postsecondary institution;
​· Fees for account management by private financial management firms;
· Insurance or surety bond payments as required by the department;
· Up to Fifty Dollars ($50.00) annually for school supplies;
​​· Computer hardware and software and other technological devices if a participating school, tutor, educational services provider, or medical professional verifies that they are essential

Participating schools are not required to admit students who apply. Participating schools may deny admission to some applicants and admit others at the school’s discretion.

Participating schools are not required to comply with the student’s IEP or otherwise provide special education services to participating students.

Participating schools are not required to provide any evidence of student achievement or satisfactory performance or to adhere to any quality standards; schools are not held to the accountability standards to which public schools adhere.

All students, regardless of income, are eligible for the IEF voucher. No preference is given to low-income students.

​Participating students are eligible through graduation or age 21.

The bill states that private schools that receive taxpayer funds through IEFs are not required to be publicly identified.

The Mississippi Department of Education is charged with administering the IEFs.

Annual audits are required to determine that parents are spending IEF funds in compliance with the statute. No performance measures are included in the audit.

​A PEER review is required every two years to determine parent satisfaction, behavior, graduation and college acceptance rates, and the fiscal impact on resident school districts. The PEER review is to consider student achievement outcomes only when the parent has requested that the student be administered a national achievement exam or if the student is administered an Advanced Placement exam. Typically, only high performing students enroll in Advanced Placement courses and take those exams, and so these outcomes reports will likely not be reflective of the entire population of students receiving the IEFs.

There are no provisions made in this legislation for objective performance measures that would inform performance-based budgeting requirements associated with other state-funded programs.

​​Sources:
Mississippi Legislative Web Site
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web Site
​​Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition