Education savings accounts and The Magnolia State
March 14, 2014 | By Jonathan Butcher | email
Remember when you finished high school? The sheepskin you received at graduation was your ticket to either a job or college. Wherever you were going, that accomplishment would follow you and help you get started in adulthood.
For Nikki Mclendon, though, her diploma wasn’t what she thought it was, reported The Hechinger Report earlier this year. Nikki finished high school in Mississippi with an occupational diploma, having struggled with her final exams. She was diagnosed with special needs in elementary school but did not take separate classes for students with special needs. Still, based on this earlier diagnosis and the courses she had completed, she qualified for an alternate certificate.
In Mississippi last year, only 23 percent of special education students received a traditional diploma. For students like Nikki, however, most universities and many employers do not recognize their certificate of completion they receive after graduating.
“What happened to Nikki Mclendon is emblematic of a larger problem in Mississippi, where students are much less likely to graduate with a regular diploma after they are classified with a disability,” reported Hechinger, citing a series of articles from Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger that described the limited opportunities for students with these certificates.
Education savings accounts are designed to give children like Nikki hope for the future—and the accounts may yet become a reality for Mississippi students. On Wednesday, the state senate voted in favor of the accounts, a critical step in the process of giving these students better opportunities to succeed. Similar to Arizona's education savings accounts, parents would have the flexibility to use an account to pay for education therapy, online classes, and private school tuition, to name a few. This would have helped Nikki find a personal tutor and get extra help before the exams became a problem.
Mississippi is one of a dozen states where parents and lawmakers have made inroads for education savings accounts in recent years.
The accounts’ significance is not lost on parents. Mandy Rogers, parent and advocate for students with special needs, wrote in the Clarion-Ledger, "As the parent of two children who received special education services, I know how meaningful the Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act would be...countless more Mississippi parents are desperate to give their children a quality education."