By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Legislation to provide state funds to allow students to attend private schools died an unexpected death Tuesday.
House Appropriations Chair Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, opted not to consider the double-referred bill in his committee Tuesday – the deadline for bills to pass out of committee in their originating chamber.
Sources indicate that the Republican leadership did not have the votes to pass the proposal on the House floor.
The bill passed the House Education Committee last week. But Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, referred the bill to the Appropriations Committee.
When Frierson canceled the Appropriations Committee meeting late Tuesday, the controversial proposal died. The only way to revive the legislation at this point would be by a two-thirds vote of both chambers, or possibly finding an education bill with the correct legal code section to allow an amendment on the floor of the House or Senate.
Both scenarios seem unlikely.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, praised Frierson for his decision to let the bill die.
“It would have been the most bitter floor fight this Legislature has seen since the hog and chicken legislation,” saidHolland, referring to past fights over agriculture legislation dealing with hog and poultry growers and producers that in at least one instance led to fisticuffs in the early 2000s.
Holland said the bill would have been detrimental to an already underfunded public school system.
House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said he was disappointed the bill was killed, but said he would continue to work to pass the proposal in the upcoming sessions.
“Good legislation sometimes takes 10 years,” Moore said. “I am a little disappointed.
“But if it is a good bill this year, it will be a good bill next year.”
The bill would have been an enhancement of the legislation that passed last year to provide $6,500 per year for parents of special needs children to pursue private education options.
The bill this year would provide $5,000 vouchers to low income students and $4,000 vouchers per year to students earning up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level or about $85,000 annually for a family of four.
The proposal would be capped at 1 percent of the total public school enrollment or about 4,900 students and would increase an additional 1 percent each year. If 1 percent of the total public school enrollment took advantage of the bill, the cost to the state would be about $30 million for the first year, though participation in the special education voucher program last year was far short of the total slots available.
Legislation did survive on deadline day to allow students in low-performing school districts to transfer to neighboring better-performing districts on the condition the district had the space to accommodate the transfer.
Another school choice proposal that is still alive would allow students to cross district lines to attend charter schools.