A new bill has been proposed in Georgia, and if passed, it could mean a brighter future for some of Georgia’s very special students.
Bill SB 10, proposed by Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, would provide scholarships for special needs children. Any special education student attending public school in Georgia would be given a voucher. If the school the child currently attends fails to meet expectations, parents would then have the option to enroll their child in another school.
The scholarships would give low income families, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to place their special needs child in a private school. In most cases, private schools allow for more individualized attention due to smaller class sizes.
The amount of the scholarship would be determined on an individual basis using the child’s Individualized Educational Plan. All public schools are required to develop an IEP for special needs students. The IEP is used to outline goals for each child. It also helps to determine what services are needed to successfully reach those goals.
Bill SB 10 was modeled after Florida’s successful McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities.
The McKay Scholarship Program was created by the 1999 Florida Legislature as a pilot program. The program allows eligible students with disabilities to attend an eligible public or private school of their choice. Students K-12, who are mentally handicapped, speech and language impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, dual sensory impaired, physically impaired, emotionally handicapped, specific learning disabled, hospitalized or homebound, or autistic can receive the scholarship.
Over 17,000 students were offered the scholarship during the 2005-2006 school year.
According to a press release on Johnson’s website, “SB 10 does not mandate that local school systems do anything. It does not require private schools to accept these children. It does not attempt to blame teachers, administrators, or parents. It simply says that parents of special needs children can choose the school that their children will attend. If they believe their needs are being fulfilled in public school, they are free to stay. But, if they feel that their child’s needs are not being met, Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarships will give them the freedom to choose another school.”
Today was the first day of the new legislative session in Georgia, so if or when the bill is passed could be several months off. “First the bill will go before the Senate Education Committee”, said Georgia Dept. of Education’s Communication Director, Dana Tofig.
On whether the bill would receive any opposition from those in the public school system, Tofig stated, “it’s too early to say.”
A representative from Senator Johnson’s office could not be reached for a comment.