Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) on Tuesday signed a landmark bill granting parents of children with disabilities the right to choose the school their children will attend.
The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act will make available to thousands of disabled students with an individualized education program a scholarship of up to $7,500 to attend any public or private school that meets state accreditation standards.
House Bill 3393, by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid), passed the state legislature two weeks ago. The state Senate approved the bill by a close vote of 25-22, with four Democrats breaking ranks to join a unanimous Republican caucus in voting yes.
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“It’s heartening to see some genuine bipartisan consensus behind the idea that public education can mean so much more than limiting children to one particular option. If scholarships for special-needs kids make sense, how long before legislators take the next logical step? Oklahoma’s legislature and courageous Democratic governor are not only giving thousands of children opportunities they may not have had otherwise. They’ve also given lawmakers in other states more reason to believe that opportunity scholarships—call them vouchers, call them what you like—are nothing to fear.”
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
“What happened in Oklahoma? Republicans in the legislature (along with four courageous Democrats) were determined to put special-needs children ahead of special-interest adults. And a Democrat governor with a soft spot for disabled kids, though very much a friend of the education establishment, saw plainly that this bill was the right thing to do and had the fortitude to sign it.”
Vice President for Policy
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, Inc.
“Special-needs children in this country are the tip of the spear when it comes to the four-way intersection of school financing laws, appropriate child-centered education services, the politics of labeling special-needs children, and the public school system’s failure. The needs of many special-needs children, like my son, cannot be met by traditional public schools even though there is a financial incentive in most states to over-label children as special needs. Add to this the federal requirements for an appropriate education mixed with the fact that special-needs parents are not uniformly low-income and you have the seeds for change.
“This is why I think that so many legislatures around the country are stepping up for special-needs children. I believe that they and the public grasp that special-needs children need an individualized education plan that is not dependent on the traditional school system.
“It is not a far jump from this to realizing that all children need an individualized education plan, one based on their needs and not their parents’ income or address. The traditional system, by its very nature, cannot respond to individual needs of children, and yet this is what more and more parents are asking for—special-needs parents are just at the head of the class in this respect.”
President and CEO
Foundation for Educational Choice
“This is great news for Oklahoma kids with disabilities, and another small step closer to educational freedom for all.
“Certainly the immediate benefits go to Oklahoma families with disabled kids, who will no longer be at the mercy of school-district lawyers and bureaucrats to get the services their children need. They now have real power. In the bigger picture, this program joins school choice programs popping up all over the country that are breaking the suffocating stranglehold public school special interests have long had on America’s kids and tax dollars. And that is good news for everyone.”
Neal P. McCluskey
Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom
“The enactment of the Oklahoma special-needs voucher program is significant for a couple of reasons. First, the new law’s support from legislators of both parties and from the Democratic governor shows school choice is becoming the new civil rights issue its supporters have long predicted, and that opponents are on the wrong side of history.
“Second, by validating the principle of choice for parents of children with special needs, lawmakers open up the discussion as to why that same principle shouldn’t be applied to all other children. Thus this new law should not be seen as just a narrow, isolated victory in one state but as part of the growing and expanding national movement to give all parents the ability to exercise their fundamental, inherent right to choose the education that best meets the needs of their children.”
Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies
Pacific Research Institute
“In the midst of the Race to the Top fiasco, Oklahoma’s passage of a special-needs scholarship program indicates that school choice continues to attract the support of taxpayers and policymakers who believe that these special children can learn and have the right to the kind of education that qualifies them to overcome disabilities and participate in the American dream.
“By joining Florida, Arizona, Utah, and Georgia in passing legislation that puts the interests of learning-disabled children ahead of the system and teachers unions, Oklahoma’s decision indicates that defenders of the status quo are losing the battle to deny loving parents the liberty to make decisions critical to the future of these special kids.”
Director of Policy and Communications
Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions