The Mississippi Department of Education announced it will hold a lottery on Jan. 31 to award 134 scholarship accounts created by the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act of 2015 for this school year.

The department awarded 425 educational scholarship accounts for the current school year, but 134 of those recipients did not put the account to use. Each scholarship is worth $6,637, and students with disabilities who seek to receive services outside of the public education system are eligible to receive them.

According to school choice group Empower Mississippi, only three of those participants who did not use the accounts re-enrolled in public school.

“… it is likely that only three students actually used the ESA to attend a private school and then decided the public school was a better fit. On this point, the program is working exactly as we believe it should,” the group’s statement read.

However, the group recommends changes to the process to avoid a similar situation in the future, including moving the application window up a year, requiring students who have received an account to report whether or not they will use the scholarship, and having the Legislature increase funding to the program.

To participate in the program, the applicant must be a Mississippi resident, have had an active Individualized Education Plan within the past five years , and the parent must sign an agreement.

Parents are reimbursed for expenses quarterly or can be paid directly to the private school or educational program.

For more information on the scholarships, visit this site.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.