Is It All About The Turf

A local BOE is going to oppose S.B. 10, the bill that would improve the education conditions of special needs students. Why? Well, when you read the article it sounds a lot more like a turf war than being legitimately concerned about the students.

“What will keep a private school from cherry picking our students,” said board member Albert Abrams. “That’s something we all need to be concerned about.”

The board says there could be abuse, even though there are safeguards in the law (there can always be abuse).

They also fear that private schools could be established just for the money and without care for the students. Hello? Is this an admission that the school thinks parents are stupid? Only the Board of Education can tell if a student is being served properly? We can’t trust the parents to make the decision and decide a school is benefiting their children?

That’s dumb.


  1. This is my response for the opponents of SB 10:

    Thank you for letting me know of your concerns regarding Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarships (SB 10). However, I am afraid we will have to respectfully disagree.

    My proposal would allow parents of children with disabilities or special needs in public schools to apply for scholarships equal to the state funding for their child’s special education and use it for any other public school or private school that offers a better environment for their child. The amount of the scholarship would be based on the state’s share of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) developed for their child’s unique needs. This would probably average about $9,000 in Georgia. In short, the GSN Scholarship allows parents to use some of the government funding for their child’s special education to send their children to another public or a private school of their choice. In effect, this separates government financing of education from government operation of schools.

    This is not a new proposal. Four other states already provide scholarships for special needs children – Florida, Utah, Ohio and Arizona. Florida’s McKay Scholarships began in 1999 and is the oldest. SB 10 is modeled after theirs. The independent Manhattan Institute studied it extensively and found much higher parent satisfaction, lower discipline problems, significantly smaller class sizes, and higher self-esteem for the children.

    Public schools do a great job with most special needs students. However, as you know, all children are different and this bill gives parents more options in which to place their child. Their neighborhood public school may be very good, but it may not be what the parent believes their special child needs. This should not be seen as an attack on the public school, but simply a recognition that all children are individuals and a different school might more closely meet the needs of the student and the parents.

    The objections to SB 10 fall into four broad categories. First, they believe that parents may not make the right decision. Second, they believe that this will harm the public school system. Third, they believe this will benefit rich kids and result in increased integration. And, finally, they believe that private schools have no accountability to deliver special ed services. Let me address each of these separately.

    I fundamentally believe that parents are in the best position to know their children and their unique needs and deserve the right to make the most appropriate decisions for their own children. This is especially true for parents of children with special needs. These families have so many hurdles – the ability to choose the most appropriate education for their children should not be one of them. Families with a special needs child are far more engaged in their children’s lives than most families and are far less likely to make the wrong choice. But, even if they do, it is their right – not the government’s (who is far more likely to make a mistake involving the child’s care).

    Others claim that this bill will significantly reduce the amount of funds available to the public school system. That is false. The GSN Scholarships will NOT drain money from public schools. No local school district will see its budget go down and, in fact, this will leave MORE money behind to educate FEWER students. Only the state’s portion of the funds will follow the child to the selected public or private school as a scholarship. The local funding will remain in the school system and serve fewer students. There will also be less litigation and transportation costs for the local public school system. Studies show that competition benefits the delivery of services, too. Public schools will need to redouble their efforts to prevent parents from exercising this new option. This is why only 5% of the eligible students in Florida use the McKay Scholarships.

    GSN Scholarships are not for rich, white children. Wealthy parents who are not satisfied with their child’s public schools have already moved to a different neighborhood or placed their special needs children in a private school. They can afford this option. Other families who are not happy with their child’s IEP or the delivery of education it requires can hire a lawyer and sue to have their child move. This is common and many special needs children are already in private schools with their tuition paid for by local taxpayers. This bill is for those who cannot afford to move, pay private school tuition or hire a lawyer. In Florida, 40% of the children using the McKay Scholarships are on the free-or-reduced lunch program and more than half of them are non-white.

    Others sincerely question whether there is any accountability for the private schools. This is simply not true. Not only will the DOE have to approve the participating schools, including looking at their financial soundness and their physical plant, but the children must be given an annual assessment and the results must be shared with the parents, the teachers, and the Georgia Department of Education. We will know who these children are, where they are, and how they are doing. The bill also requires that parents must be given the credentials of their child’s teachers every year. The GSN Scholarships will improve accountability. Presently, there are no consequences for a public school system who is failing to help a special needs child. With this program, the accountability is that the parent can move their child – from the public school to a private school or from the private school back to the public school. Accountability is increased with SB 10!

    The ability to create a new, alternative method for assessing progress for special needs children in lieu of the strict requirements of NCLB (that even public school administrators and teachers believe are inappropriate) is one of the reasons why many people support SB 10 who are not supporters of broader “voucher” proposals. Again, I fundamentally believe that parents are perfectly capable of taking this information and making the decision of whether the teacher and the school will provide the right education.

    Finally, some people just plain oppose “vouchers” and use the above reasons as excuses. But vouchers are simply government services offered to people who are allowed to choose their providers. Medicaid is a voucher. Food stamps are vouchers. The Katie Beckett waiver is a voucher. In Georgia, the HOPE Scholarship and our Pre-K program are vouchers where public funds can be – and are – used for private schools, including religious institutions. Scholarships or vouchers are not a bad thing and can be used where appropriate.

    At its basic level, SB 10 simply provides an option for the parent of a child with special needs when they believe the local public school is not helping their child. Most parents (95% according to experience in other states) will still decide that their neighborhood public school can best help their child. But the parents of students with disabilities should not be blocked from making the educational choices that will allow their special children to be all they can be.

    I encourage you to rethink your opposition to SB 10. Please let me know if you have additional questions.

    Yours for a better Georgia,

    Senator Eric Johnson

  2. Jason Pye says:

    If the proposed bill is approved, school board members fear private schools may be established to enroll these students only for the money and may not provide adequate services.

    If a private school doesn’t provide “adequate services,” then they’ll leave the school. That’s how the market works.

    For too long parents have had to deal with a government monopoly on education, where they have little say. Now for once they can make decisions that are best for their kids and those that support the monopoly are working against choice and speaking out against the parents right to do what is best for their child.

  3. Jmac says:

    Couple of questions and/or observations …

    – From a purely sementics perspective, ‘government monopoly’ is terribly misleading. There are existing private schools that parents can opt to send their children to if they have the necessary resources. Many local districts also offer school choice programs and charter schools as well.

    – Sen. Johnson pointed out this money won’t come out of the funds that directly affect the day-to-day operations of our public schools. However, won’t that still be money not going into some other portion of our state expenditures? If we’re pulling money out of our coffers to devote to this fund, it’s going to mean that somewhere those funds have to be made up, correct?

    – But of the problem I have when I deal with the ‘voucher issue’ is that just because additional funds are made available to parents for them to choose where to send their child doesn’t necessarily mean they have increased options. Often the cost of the school is higher than the voucher. In other situations the school can voluntarily deny admission to some students. How will this bill get around that … particularly the latter since it could encroach on privacy issues at some private institutions?

    – I don’t necessarily think I’d classify the HOPE Scholarship as a ‘voucher’ because I would take a voucher to be something that is giving someone a choice based on them, well, simply being. HOPE is a scholarship in the purest sense of the term in that the prospective college student must maintain a certain GPA in order to hold on to the scholarship. We’re not doling those things out to C students.

    Admittedly, I’ve got some philosophical/ideological issues with this, but I’m much more an ‘ends’ guy rather than a ‘means’ guy so I’m willing to keep an open mind.

  4. Paul Shuford says:

    The opponents to voucher programs, and many who are simply not familiar with how they work, think that voucher systems are some kind of unknown, that by instituting them we would be irresponsibly tinkering with our children’s future, and that they would destroy our public school system. But that’s simply not the case. The Dutch have had a voucher system in place for quite a while, and none of the above fears have manifested – the Dutch students score first in the world in mathematics, second in science, and fourth in literacy – far and away above students in the United States. And have their voucher programs destroyed their public schools? No, the performance from their public school students is pretty much the same as those enrolled in their private schools. And low-income families have benefitted greatly from this – the students in the country’s high performing Catholic schools have lower incomes than the students in the public schools, but they do just as well or better academically.

    All of this has been done at a lower cost than what we spend on education in this country. The Dutch spend about $6,000 per student annually, compared to our average of about $10,000 per student.

    Voucher systems are cheaper, and far better than the systems we have now. Why aren’t we using them?

  5. Andrew says:

    Senator Johnson,

    I agree with the idea behind the legislation. But what in terms of transportation to the school will allow all students in Georgia to gain equal benefit from this new system? Does Senate Bill 10 make allowance or guidance for this? That is the only objection I have to public funds being used this way.

  6. Nicki says:

    I’m also somewhat opposed, though I’m keeping an open mind.

    My objections are multiple.
    1. Logistical — where does the money come from, how does it affect the state and other students, how are students on vouchers to be transported to their chosen private schools (’cause, given our transportation systems, there are many people who cannot use a voucher even if they qualify unless it also provides transportation), how will we guarantee that the private schools are adequate?
    2. Holistic — why can’t we provide the service required within our existing schools? How will the program affect the quality of instruction for those who qualify, but are not able or inclined to take the voucher?
    and 3. Practical. I went to an elite private school. I know the range of private schools and public schools — I know that under “private” fall elite schools like the one I attended (which won’t take most special-needs kids, and also costs more than double what the voucher would provide), faith-based academies ranging widely in mission and rigor (some having no rigor), and for-profit commercial schools. So what are we really paying for?

  7. Senator Johnson, why should I take anything seriously that you say after:

    “The independent Manhattan Institute.”

    The Manhattan Institute may be technically “independent” of the Republican Party, but it is still a corporate funded right-leaning/wing (your pick) think tank.

    From their website:

    CCI’s work on education reform focuses on improving two main reforms of public education: school choice and accountability

    Of course they are going to be in favor of vouchers for special needs students. They are in favor of vouchers period and it is part of their mission as an organization.

    Give me a break.

  8. Jason, Eric Johnson has been very deceptive about his support of this bill all along, citing the “independent” Manhattan Institute is just the latest bit.

    Of course think tanks have biases and are going to produce studies that reinforce those biases, my point in bringing it up is mostly that Sen. Johnson puts it out there and pretends it has more credibility than it does in order to shift the goalposts in his arguments.

    Sen. Johnson does another thing that should be a tell tale sign of unserious debate, and that is rephrasing his opponents “problems” so that he can give an answer he wants, and not an answer to their actual questions.

    I raised two pretty big issues earlier and I will restate them now. I could care less than DOE will check the balance sheet of a private school and also its physical plant to make sure that it is a safe alternative. What does that have to do with providing special needs education? Eric throws that back at his “opponents”, but while being on financial good footing and having a building that won’t fall down are certainly important for a private school, they say nothing as to whether the school is adequately meeting the special needs of a student or whether they are capable of doing so.

    Do parents know best, sure, but are parents particularly of children with very narrow special needs capable just on their own of assessing the true quality of a special needs program at one school or another? I know that in many cases emotions take over and parents want to believe that their special needs child can accomplish something academically, even if the child may not be able to.

    Parents in these cases often don’t like to be told by educators that their child just isn’t capable of mastering some area (or hasn’t yet), and they want to blame the school, the educator, administrators or anything because (as parents) they refuse to accept that their child may just not be able to do it. In these cases, the parents emotions may prevent them from truly doing what is in the best case for a child, a private school that is financially and structurally sound may have an incentive to lie to the parent and just tell them what they want to hear, after all even though the private school is breaking even on the special needs student (allegedly) the parent may have other children that the school is competing for (and most private schools are for profit).

    I’m certainly not alleging that I have any evidence that private or public schools are doing things like this, but I believe Sen. Johnson’s bill falls far short in assuming that your average parent (who did not get a degree in special education) is capable of, on their own, making a dispassionate assessment of their child’s needs and progress.

    A related issue that I believe the bill does not protect against is the tendency by some parents to jurisdiction shop under the bill. Obviously, special needs students benefit from an education plan that encompasses many years of gradual growth. Under Sen. Johnson’s bill parents may just jump from one program to another at different schools. If every school is essentially starting over every year, how will things be accomplished?

    These concerns don’t fit neatly into Eric’s cookie cutter opposition to his bill, which makes me suspect his true motiviations.

    Related to this: one thing I like about NCLB is that it sets up evaluations and if your school is failing after a certain period of years you can transfer your student. If Republicans are serious about SB 10, why not at least allow a ranking for public schools that is independent. In other words, parents know best under NCLB, and by that we mean that we will publish certain criteria about their children’s schools and then they can decide where to send them. Why shouldn’t we do the same for special needs children?

    Here is my other concern, which Eric doesn’t address and it is about state funding of schools. Right now, the state underfunds its QBE requirements and has done so every year since Sonny has been governor. Let’s say DeKalb County is supposed to get X from the state but really is only getting about 95% of X. Under Eric’s proposal, the county would still technically count the private school children as part of it’s enrollment, but would transfer the state money to the private schools. So, they have to transfer Y, but only get reimbursed (because of austerity cuts) for 95% of Y. Of course, this is a problem whether the child remains enrolled in the system or not but suffice it to say I remain skeptical of this and all other educational proposals because the Republicans in the General Assembly (and Governor’s Office) have not been forthright when it comes to education proposals and funding in this state.

    With state underfunding and Richardson’s and Cagle open desire to “localize” more funding decisions, it’s hard not to view any bill (including SB 10) as more than meets the eye.

    Supporters of SB 10 on this site clearly want vouchers, but they know they will lose that battle. They are trying to use special needs children as a stalking horse for vouchers with this poorly written bill. Even if special needs vouchers are a good idea, lets at least let an independent panel (that includes the parent) decide if the public school is failing, just like in NCLB. What’s so bad about that?

  9. lawgal says:

    While I tend to favor the bill, I tend to believe there is some merits to the argument that schools might not act in the best interest of the child.
    My husband is from South Georgia and his mom sent him to a private school that, from what I can tell, taught him nothing. This has caused many struggles as he tries to work his way through college, namely that he was not taught most algebraic concepts or even aspects of history such as the Holocaust.
    However, his mother still insists that the money she spent on the private school was worth it and regrets not being able to send her other children to it. There are certain people that hear private school and think better and never ask any questions.
    With that being said, its not our place to legislate thinking only of those that can’t figure out that a kid needs algebra and history. Just don’t brush off the idea too lightly.

  10. Georgia Mom says:

    “… but I believe Sen. Johnson’s bill falls far short in assuming that your average parent (who did not get a degree in special education) is capable of, on their own, making a dispassionate assessment of their child’s needs and progress.”

    As the parent of a special needs child, I can assure you that MOST parents are more than capable to make a reasonable assessment of their child’s potential. After all, we are the people who have been working with therapists, tutors, and doctors for years to help our children achieve their potential. In contrast, a teacher, administrator, school psychologist or special ed teacher may be called upon to make these assessments without every having even met the child being discussed. Am I passionate about my child’s capabilities? Yes. Does that mean I am somehow incapable of making a rational decision? I think not.

    To me, it is those who oppose this bill who are speaking from emotion and fear, not the parents who support it. A politician makes a comment about “cherry picking our students”; what does that even mean?

    NCLB does not offer a real choice on an individual basis. The school may be doing “just fine” with the majority of the students and be totally failing these special needs kids. For example, our school system does not even recognize dyslexia as a learning disablity and has NO reading programs in place to help these kids learn to read. They just accept that 15% (give or take) of their students will not be able to read when they leave elementary school. We’re not #48 in education for no reason!

    The one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work with these children. When speaking of children with disablities, it is important to remember that this covers a vast spectrum of abilities … physical disabilities, emotional disorders, learning disablities, etc. No school system can possibly be well equipped to meet all these needs.

    When speaking of funding issues, the thing that puzzles me is that people only speak of the money that is being “taken” from the public school system. Do people not realize that the equivalent expense is also being “taken” from the system? If it costs $x to educate my child and the school is no longer doing that, then how does taking $X away impact the children who are “left behind”.

    To me, this bill is all about choice. If your school system is offering alternatives or providing adequate services, then that’s wonderful. If they are not, then why should even one child be left to fail when other resources are out there.

  11. voucher tester says:

    Ga parents need to know that the truth about the SN Voucher. (SB10 Special Needs Scholarship, voucher)
    We sadly were quick to try this new program. Our child has been in a school that functions like a babysitting service.
    My very intelligent child was not being educated 🙁
    The parent don’t get called about their disruptive kids, so it’s a win win for those types of families.

    Teachers just quit after school started. My child had to put up with terroristic threats all day long. Violent chidren were tolerated.
    I am shocked at what little education took place. The rare time work was done it was several, several grade levels lower than where my child was at.

    Parents please please look before you leap.
    Private schools are getting away with this in GA and the children suffer.
    Public schools have issues, yes, however none of the above issues are allowed in public schools.

    Things that are allowed in this private school would have made the nightly news has it been a public school.

    Accountability is, for the most part, in place in public school.
    Look before you leap…….
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