Monday, March 26, 2012

Proposed Changes to Georgia Voucher Program Will Strengthen Opportunities for Students with Special Needs

The Georgia constitutional amendment for a charter school authorizing commission isn’t the only school choice news making headlines in the Peach State.  The state legislature is working to expand the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program, a voucher program for children with special needs.

House Bill 181 includes several changes to strengthen the the program, which helps nearly 3,000 students attend the school of their parents’ choice.  Both the House and Senate have passed the bill, but the House must vote on the amended Senate version before the legislation heads to the governor’s desk.

Here are the proposed changes to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program included in House Bill 181:
  • Specific Parent Notification Policies: Requires stronger parent notification policies so that parents of eligible students know the educational options available to their children and be able to make the educational choice that best meets their child’s needs.  
  • Multiple Enrollment Dates: Creates three enrollment dates of August 1, October 1, and March 1 each school year so parents have the option to enroll in a school that best meets their child’s educational needs.  If a student enrolled in a participating school continues to struggle, multiple enrollment dates will allow parents to find a school that better meets their educational needs, instead of staying in an ill-fitting school for an entire year.
  • Payment Deadlines: Establishes specific dates for when tuition money must be paid to participating schools, allowing schools to better serve their students.  Specific payment deadlines will allow schools to remain in the program.  Currently, many schools do not receive payments from the state for months and have been forced to leave the program due to the financial strains.  This will allow more schools to participate and stay in the program and provide more options for kids!
  • Individual Education Program (IEP) Requirements: An erroneous rule change in 2010 required students to have an IEP for an entire school year prior to participating in the program.  House Bill 181 requires that students have an IEP at some point during the year.  This was the original intent of the law and will remove unnecessary barriers for students.  If a child attending public school is diagnosed with a learning disability and receives an IEP in October, the student would have to remain in public for another entire year before becoming eligible for the program.  This change allows students who need more options, to have access to those options in a timely manner.
Created in 2007, the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program serves 2,965 students with special needs in the 2011-12 school year.   

Though these changes are technical, they will without a doubt strengthen and streamline the program, thereby providing even more help to thousands of students across Georgia.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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