About That Bill I Pre-Filed

Last week, I proposed the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program which is modeled after Florida’s successful McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. This will combine parent-directed choices with student-directed funding. In short, my bill (SB 10) will provide a school voucher for any special education student in Georgia’s public schools. If the school their child attends fails to meet their expectations, parents can enroll their child in another school.

In just 6 years, Florida’s program has gone from 970 children to 17,300 students with disabilities taking advantage of this creative alternative. And, according to the Manhattan Institute, 93% of the parents of these children are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ compared to 33% who have the same level of satisfaction with their public schools. There are other benefits, too. Class sizes dropped dramatically – from an average of 25 students per class to 13. There were significant decreases in behavioral problems and the children were far less victimized by other students due to their disabilities. In short, participants in the McKay Scholarship program are being significantly better served at no additional cost to the taxpayers and little or no extra cost to their families.


Under federal law, every special needs child has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The services required by the public school are determined by the IEP. The scholarships are based on the cost of delivering those services in the public school system. In Florida, this ranges from $4,800 to $20,700. The average scholarship is $7,000.

Disabled children with wealthy parents can attend private school now. Parents who can afford an attorney often challenge the public school’s ability to meet the IEP. If they win, the child is moved to a private school and funded by the state. So, only disabled children with poor or middle class parents who cannot afford an attorney have no option.

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. 

It is rare that any education reform program, particularly one aimed at a disabled population, shows results so dramatic. I believe that Georgia should provide the same opportunity for our ‘special’ children that we do for pre-schoolers and HOPE scholars. Let’s give our special needs children increased opportunities by giving them choice.

16 comments

  1. defnotrep says:

    Senator Johnson,

    I think your bill sounds like a good one. I think parents of a special needs child should be able to decide what school is best for their child.

    I think all your points are good ones.

    I’d like to hear what some of the parents of special needs children think.

    Seems to make a lot of sense. Keep us posted.

    Thanks.

  2. liberty21 says:

    Senator Johnson,
    It is one the few great bills from this Republican Leadership in the state legislature. I believe all parents of special needs students that attends fails to meet their expectations, parents can enroll their child in another school at no cost. I applaud HB 10.

  3. If a parent feels that their child’s education is inadequate, is there any sort of independent analysis conducted to see if the claim is warranted?

    I’m 100% in favor of the public school system meeting the needs of all children, especially special needs children. I also think that our public schools make an incredible effort and in many cases do a very good job already.

    Is there any determination made that the alternative school chosen is actually capable of educating the child at a better level?

    Obviously standards are set that these things are currently measured against. I believe parents almost always know what’s best when it comes to educating their children, but when my tax dollars may be going to private institutions, I’d like some assurance that they’ll be getting a better value at the alternative school chosen.

    Eric?

  4. Old School Politics says:

    Good job Senator Johnson! Sounds like a good idea. I do expect the education lobby (Gold Dome Gang) is probably having chest pains in fear of this being the beginning of vouchers for all.

  5. Lorie says:

    As a parent of a special needs child, I’ve been fighting the county since Pre K to get my son the minimum of IDEA. I’ve fought for therapy and inclusion. Now I’ve got to keep on them to ensure that the are at least attempting to follow his IEP. He’s in 2nd grade. I’ve dealt w/ first year teachers given the responsibility to implement an IEP which they’ve never seen one before.

    Personally I would love to have an option to send my son to another school I’ve chosen. I am quite tired of going to my son’s reg ed class and seeing the walls jam packed w/ posters and designs and walking into the sped class to blank walls. It’s sad that I have to buy a pencil sharpener for that class. They request but it’s at the bottom of the list for the school. Where does that money go to if it’s not going to these children?

  6. Lorie, maybe you should ask Senator Johnson why the Republicans and Perdue have subtracted “austerity reductions” from the state’s QBE contribution to local school systems for the past 4 years.

    A quick refresher on how QBE works: the state calculates a certain formula based on full time attendance for each system (including how many special needs students are full time). A number is calculated that is considered the “Quality Basic Education” amount the system should be budgeted in order to guarantee a “basic” education for the children in that system.

    Part of the formula is the amount of money the county school board should provide through local property taxes and the remaining amount is supposed to come from the state. However, every year Perdue has been in office his budget has calculated the amount and then done an “austerity reduction” that reduces the amount the state gives to the systems.

    It is up to the system to make up the shortfall. Nearly 100 school systems have responded to the cuts by raising their own property taxes, but some systems just decide to cut as much as they can to make due. In essense, the state is mandating that they spend a certain amount of money on various area, but under/unfunding those mandates.

    Now, Senator Johnson proposes to take 100% of the funds necessary to educate special needs children away from the local school systems (read the bill, the students are still counted for the formula as if they were enrolled in public school) even though in many cases the state is giving the system far less than 100% of these funds, due to austerity reductions.

    In other words, as long as there are austerity reductions and QBE is not fully funded, the local systems will have to use local property taxes to subsidize the state’s portion of the private school tuition at the expense of the remaining students.

    To find out how much money has been cut by the state to your local school system please go here http://www.sonnyschoolcuts.com/

  7. Ben Marshall says:

    Chris,

    How about you read the bill before asking pointless questions? Under this bill, private schools can’t even accept children with this scholarship unless they apply to the State Board of Education, and are then approved to accept children under this program. Therefore, the State Board of Education has the ability ot determine whether the private school will meet the needs of these children, before the children even go there.

  8. Ben Marshall,

    Why don’t YOU read the bill. There is very little in the bill about the private school’s ability to meet the certain need, it is mostly just the school must be insured, in good financial health, etc.

    In other words, the public school could provide a better education that the private school alternative that the parent chooses, but my taxpayer dollars would still go to subsidize that private school education.

    Republicans are all about accountability. This bill, as written, offers few assurances to me as a taxpayer that my education tax dollars are being well spent. This bill certainly does not try to prove that special needs children will be better served in their private school alternative.

    Read the bill and show me where I’m wrong. And if you think a parent should just say give me the money to spend at a different school and an independent review board of teachers and other parents shouldn’t be necessary to confirm that the private school is indeed a better learning environment, than just say so.

  9. Lorie says:

    Chris,

    I understand what you are saying which is one reason I refused to vote for Perdue. He has made so many cuts to the education system. I try to hold my local school system accountable for my child’s education. I also do my part. But when I have to go into an IEP meeting and tell everyone their job and bring to the table solutions and therapies to do, it gets very frustrating. I have tried to transfer my child to another school. I would not just enroll him into any “private” school immediately. I would wait and see how they perform. My child is high functioning autistic but for several years, the LSS refused to educate him just because he’s sped. My son can learn and he has made great strides this year. They have actually been trying this year. It’s amazing that in order to get this far I’ve had to give a talk before the NCLB committee with the SPED director of my county in the audience to get a response.

  10. Michael C says:

    Chris the only accountability needed is from the parents. Do you really think you have accountability for every tax you pay? You really trust government with this process?

    Most established private schools would not touch this with a 10 ft. pole. I work for one, and we would never allow the state to have any accountability over us. we would refuse to accept the funds if strings were attached.

    Lorie, I understand your frustration, my wife is a teacher and she usualy finds out from parents when kids have an IEP. It puts her in a very awkward and frustrating position. Administration does not pass on the information unless she repeatedly asks for it.

  11. Paul Shuford says:

    This is a great idea, Sen. Johnson, and kudos for filing this bill. My only hope is that it is the start of vouchers for all schoolchildren, so that they can all take advantage of the benefits of such a system, and not just the kids in need of special education.

  12. Michael, I’m not naive. However your comment is interesting, exactly what type of institutions are eager to accept these children and government tax dollars? I’ll let you answer the question.

    Lorie, I sympathize greatly with your struggles and with all parents who are trying to get the best education for their children, whether they are special needs or not. This bill offers a false hope that things will materially improve for Georgia parents. It’s a way to use one group of Georgians to usher in vouchers for the overall population.

    I’ll give you one example scenario. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetic children can be eligible under IDEA to form an IEP, if for instance their learning depends on having a classroom aide check their blood sugar levels often and administer medication to regulate it, so that their blood sugar disability doesn’t interfere with their education environment. So any child with diabetes could be eligible for one of these vouchers. Where do we draw the line on something like that?

  13. Lorie says:

    A child with diabetes may also fall under a 504 plan. An autistic child couldn’t. My son’s dev ped told us if we were looking for a private school to not mention his autism. Just the ADHD. Why? Because it’s an expensive disability. There is so much needed for early intervention. We don’t have the Katie Beckett. Our insurance is self insured and excludes autism. All we have is the school and winging it w/o a safety net.

    Reading all the Yahoo parent groups in GA and other Sped advocacy groups out there, this is not an uncommon problem. Is this bill a solution? I don’t know. I’ve met parents who moved to different counties and one who sold their house to move into an apartment to get into a school w/ a proven record. We are aware of the shortcomings of the schools but it would be nice to have a choice.

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