AZ Empowerment bill moves ahead

April 10, 2011 by  

SB 1553 passed a final vote in the Senate and is headed for the Governor desk… The bill will give Arizona special ed students the education opportunities they need.  Read the summary:  SB 1553

Background:  As you may know, in 2006 then Governor Janet Napolitano signed into law Arizona’s Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities, a school voucher program for special needs children.  The Arizona Supreme Court struck down this program based on a provision in the Arizona Constitution called the Blaine Amendment. The Blaine Amendment prohibits aid or support to religious schools and 37 states have similar provisions. The Arizona Supreme Court gave us, in their ruling, a way to structure a program that would be compatible with the Blaine Amendment. This bill is based on the Arizona Supreme Court’s very own suggestion: the State should give education funds directly to parents of special needs children and allow them to spend the money on a wide range of options and services.

Provisions:  The ESA would essentially allow for a voluntary opt-out of the Arizona district and charter school systems.  This option would allow parents to seek different methods for educating their children – whether through private schools, online programs, or homeschooling.   The state would donate funds, equivalent to 90 percent of state aid, in exchange for parents agreeing not to enroll their child in a public school. Parents would be free to use the money for a wide range of educational services.  The Treasurer would administer the program. The Dept of Education would handle the determination on the dollar amount per child.  The administration allowance is 3% of the funds deposited in the account, hence the parents have 87% of the money, the admin costs 3% and the state saves 10%.

Perfect for Children with Disabilities:  Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) recently published a study detailing a variety of reasons that technology based learning could be especially helpful to children with disabilities.  They noted: individualized program and pacing; extensive opportunities for parental involvement; extension of existing technology for children with disabilities, variety of presentation formats and personalized instruction; and more control over the learning environment.

Children with disabilities are often poorly served by public schools. In 1999, Florida created a school voucher for children with disabilities called the McKay Scholarship Program. This program allows children with disabilities to take a portion of the funding the state would spend on their education and use it at any school they choose – whether that’s a traditional public school, a charter school, an online program, or a private school. Researchers have found that the program significantly improved learning among Florida’s children with disabilities. Ohio, Utah, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Louisiana have enacted voucher programs emulating McKay.  This program for children with special needs is designed to emulate the advantages of the McKay Scholarship, while meeting the constitution threshold established by the Arizona Supreme Court. And here in AZ, public schools have often complained that they do not get enough funding to educate children with disabilities.   This program would allow those children to leave with their “inadequate” funding and seek education elsewhere.  A win-win.  Also, it is important to know that only about 10% of McKay eligible children take advantage of it, so there will not be a huge mad dash out of public schools.

Read more about the bill here:  SB 1553.

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