The Georgia Senate Education Committee approved two bills that would broaden the state’s Special Needs Scholarship to more special-needs students, military families, and foster children.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers’s (R-Woodstock) proposal, Senate Bill 87, would open the program to children who have a parent serving in the military, and children in foster families.
Rep. Rick Golick’s (R-Smyrna) House Bill 181 would revise the program requirement that students attend a Georgia public school the year before applying for a special-needs scholarship, instead authorizing the state Department of Education to waive that requirement upon a parent’s request. HB 181 passed the House in 2011.
“Some parents cannot take the risk of sending their child to a school that may not have the ability to attend to their child’s medical needs,” Golick said. “This change would let families take advantage of the special needs scholarship without potentially jeopardizing their child’s health.”
The bills now stand before the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether they go to the full Senate for a vote.
An ‘Incredible Resource’
Georgia’s special-needs scholarship program has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships since it began in 2007. It has grown significantly every year since its first year of operation, when it awarded slightly fewer than 900 scholarships. In 2011 nearly 3,000 students benefited from a special-needs scholarship, according to the Alliance for School Choice.
Scholarship amounts for special-needs students generally ranged from $2,500 to $13,500, averaging approximately $6,000.
Georgia also operates a tax credit scholarship program that provides tax credits to individuals and corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting nonprofits. Individuals can deduct up to $1,000 and couples up to $2,500. Last year, more than 8,000 students received tax credit scholarships.
“The Georgia [scholarship] program for children with special needs has given parents much- needed assistance to find schools and programs that work best for their children,” said Virginia Walden Ford, founder of D.C. Parents for School Choice. “Financial realities have prevented many parents from having any educational choices for their students who have special needs. This program has been an incredible resource.”
Because military families move so often, giving them greater latitude in choosing a fitting new school environment will help ease family stress and their adjustment to new surroundings, Ford noted.
“Military children should not face obstacles to a quality education,” Walden Ford said. Rogers’s proposal would “improve educational opportunities for the children of our service men and women and alleviate parents’ concerns about providing a quality education for their children regardless of where they live.”
The growth in students taking part in scholarship programs in Georgia and around the nation indicates an increasing demand for education options, notes Lindsey Burke, the Heritage Foundation’s senior education policy analyst.
“School choice empowers families to choose a school in their child’s best interest,” Burke said. “It’s great to see Georgia working to make that a reality for many more children.”
Image by the U.S. Army.