January 31, 2019

Mississippi Bishops Call for Expanding ESA Program

This release originally ran at Empower Mississippi, visit the site to see the full letters.

In letters addressed to the legislature, the leaders of the Catholic Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi voiced support for expanding Mississippi’s Education Scholarship Account program, which enables parents to direct their state education tax dollars to the educational setting and services of their choice.  Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz and Superintendent of Education Catherine Cook of the Diocese of Jackson urged legislators to take action in 2019.

“Our Catholic schools have been eager to serve eligible families,” their letter stated.  “About one-third of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Jackson educate students in the program.”

The letter went on to address the over 200 families currently on the ESA wait list.

“Funding has not kept pace with demand for the ESAs.  Parental power over their child’s education should not be based on random chance – please expand funding for the Equal Opportunity Program to ensure all applicants can exercise their parental rights.”

Biloxi Bishop Louis F. Kihneman, III, echoed the sentiments of Jackson officials in his letter to the legislature.

“As a Church, we believe that parents are the first and primary teachers of their children; some parents do not have the resources to educate children with special needs. Expansion of the ESA program to include more students would benefit these families as well as the State of Mississippi,” Kihneman said in his letter.  “Parents should have the opportunity to send their children to the school that best fits their needs and to obtain services that are essential to the education of their children, especially if their children are in need of extra care and attention to maximize their learning potential.”

More than half of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Biloxi participate in the ESA program.

“From the start, Catholic schools have offered an education to girls and boys of all racial, ethnic, religious, and varying economic backgrounds.  Expanding our programs for special needs students would allow another choice for parents who are burdened,” Kihneman stated in his letter.

There are hundreds of families in Mississippi who join the leaders of the Catholic church in a plea to the legislature to expand the program and eliminate the wait list for students around the state.

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