Senate Bill 10
Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act
The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act, Senate Bill 10, passed both House and Senate and at the time of this report, awaits the Governor's signature. The bill characterizes state money as a "scholarship choice option for students with disabilities." It has more often been referred to as the "special education voucher" legislation. Listed below are questions that have been asked and comments about the bill that should be addressed as a part of the implementation process.
Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, designated as Article 33;
- Does term "scholarship" mean the same thing as a "voucher?"
- The terms are interchangeable for the purpose of this bill. A voucher is a coupon or check.
20-20-2111 Parent Choice
- Are parents really "best equipped" to make decisions regarding the special educational setting for their children?
- In most cases, parents certainly have their child's best interest in mind. The special education law (IDEA) has provided that the school and parent decide together on the appropriate educational setting based on the individual needs and specialized services for a disabled student. Parental choice as provided in this bill negates the joint placement planning and IEP goals.
- Would this bill start immediately next school year (2007-2008)?
- YES. Students who have an IEP and who have been in the public school during the prior school year (2 FTE counts) are eligible.
- Do private schools have to be accredited by the state to receive scholarship money?
- YES. They have to be accredited or be in the process of becoming accredited. This may mean that a private school can apply and start serving scholarship students without having completed the state accreditation process.
20-2-2113 Parent Options
- Does the bill only cover private school choice?
- NO. The bill allows choice within the school system where the parents reside, choice to another school system, choice to attend one of the state schools for the blind or deaf, and choice to a private school. In-system choice is based on availability of space in a similar program; out-of-system choice is based upon the approval of the resident or receiving school system.
- Does the school system have to provide transportation if they choose another school or private school?
- NO. The parent is responsible for transportation costs.
- Is this different for the State Schools for the blind and deaf?
- YES. The bill only provides that parents may choose for their child to attend one of the State schools. The issues under IDEA of transportation, mainstreaming, IEP goals, etc., are not addressed.
20-2-2114 Eligible Students
- Does this apply for all disabled students?
- YES*. The list of eligible students includes all areas listed in federal regulations and provides that the student's parents must have been a resident for at least one year. *(Note: The state category of "Significant Developmental Delay" is NOT included in this section of SB 10.)
- Do the rights and protection of state and federal law apply when a disabled student goes to a private school under this bill?
- NO. The law specifically provides that parents are refusing services as provided in the IDEA federal law.
- Would the private school receiving the voucher have to continue a child's IEP, re-testing periodically, eligibility, etc.?
- NO. The decision to accept a child and to provide these services would be at the discretion of the private school. The private school must only conduct annual pre- and post-testing which is to be reported to the parent. As long as the child remains in a private school there are no further requirements that a student's eligibility as a disabled child be reviewed.
- Do parents give up all services of the public school?
- NO. The bill provides that parents may return to the public school to allow their child to take all state-wide public school assessments. Some of the public school testing includes the Georgia High School Graduation exam, the Georgia Criterion Reference Competency Test (CRCT), the high school End of Course Test, etc. If parents decided to return to the public school for testing, there would be no guarantee that testing modifications (for example, reading the test directions to the child, or additional time given) could be provided if a current IEP is not in place from the public school administering the test.
- How long can a parent receive a scholarship under the bill?
- The scholarship remains in force until the child returns to the public school, graduates, or reaches the age of 21. If the parent decides to return to the public school at any time, the school system continues to have the responsibility to provide services under state and federal law.
20-2-2115 Private School Eligibility
- Who determines which private schools are eligible to receive scholarship funds?
- The Georgia Department of Education must assure that the private schools have a physical building in Georgia, meets accounting standards, have insurance, and can reasonably expect to operate for the upcoming school year. Additionally, private schools are required to meet the provisions of the current Georgia Code applicable to private schools (Section 20-2-690).
- Does the scholarship include church/religious schools as well?
- YES. The religious school would have to submit the same application as other private
- What accountability requirements do the private schools have to meet to assure that state funds are appropriately spent?
- A private school must provide to the Department of Education a report on the progress the student is making. There are no other requirements that the private school meet any state or federal requirements for educating a child with disabilities, including the development of an IEP, re-evaluation, or mainstreaming.
- What about the state teacher certification requirements and the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act?
- The bill requires only that private school teachers have a bachelor's degree or three years of experience in education or health.
- When would this program begin?
- Private schools may submit an application to the Department of Education to enroll scholarship students beginning with the 2007-2008 school year.
- How does the state determine how much state education money goes to a private school?
- The amount of funds that a local school system would receive for a child is generated by the state's education funding formula. A child with a learning disability, for example, might earn state funding of $3,000 for two periods of special education and $2,000 for four periods of regular education, providing a total scholarship amount of $5,000. Final determination of the calculations reflecting the funding differences between each system's local five mil share has not been made at this time.
- What if the private school tuition is much more than the amount earned by a local school system?
- The scholarship may only be the amount of the total tuition and fees charged, or the state funds that would be earned by the local school system, whichever is the smaller amount.
- Are we currently sending any state money to private or religious schools?
- Pre-K and HOPE scholarship funds may be expended in a private setting in accordance with Georgia law. Additionally, some local school system IEPs are written for students who may require funding in a private placement based on the severity of the disability and the needs of the child. The bill will establish a precedent, however, for state K-12 education funds being spent in a private or religious school.
- Does this bill require a substantial amount of new procedures and paperwork for local systems and the Department of Education?
- YES. Local systems must submit quarterly reports to the state for participating scholarship students. The Department of Education must then recalculate funding allotments to the system, maintain documentation on the participating private school, establish an account for private school disbursements, and make quarterly payments to the private schools.
20-2-2117 and 2118 State Rules and Reporting
- Will the state compile annual data on the scholarship program?
- The State Board of Education will adopt compliance rules for all the procedures and
paperwork required. Additionally, the Office of Student Achievement and the
Department of Education will annually report on all schools and students
participating in the program.
- There is a lot of information contained in the bill. What are the most critical points to remember?
- Key Points to consider include:
- Senate Bill 10 sends state K-12 education money to private or religious schools.
- Parents of disabled children who accept the scholarship suspend their rights under state and federal legislation.
- Private schools have virtually no accountability for the expenditure of state funds.
- Once a scholarship is approved, the student is always approved to receive a scholarship and is always considered disabled as listed in the last IEP.
- There will be an increasing cost to the Georgia Department of Education and local school systems for administering the program.
- The scholarship is the amount of total state money a school system would receive for educating a child, not just the amount for the special education portion of a local school system program.