In the 2016-2017 school year, 425 vouchers were available for children with special needs (under the Education Scholarship Account or ESA program). A second lottery was held in January 2017 to distribute 134 vouchers that had become available since the beginning of the school year, indicating that almost one-third of the vouchers originally available were unused at the mid-point of the school year. By the end of 2016-2017, 559 students had been assigned vouchers, 220 of whom never used them (39%). Private schools participating in voucher programs are not required to accept all voucher students; possession of a voucher does not guarantee a student admission to or consideration by a private school. In June of 2017, The Parents’ Campaign Research and Education Fund issued a public records request to MDE seeking detailed statistics on the ESA program for 2016-2017; see MDE’s public records response here.
In School Choice, Private Schools Do the Choosing
Vouchers are touted as a way to let parents choose the best schools for their children, but don’t be fooled – when it comes to school choice, it isn’t parents who do the choosing. Though parents can apply, parents do not get to choose the schools their children will attend. It’s the private schools that do the choosing. Private schools that participate in voucher programs are not required to admit the students who apply; the schools are allowed to pick and choose the students they want. And private schools almost always charge more tuition than the voucher will cover. In the first year of the special needs voucher program, Mississippi Department of Education officials reported that some parents were unable to find private schools that would accept their children.