I don’t have to explain that there has been quite a debate over school vouchers, so many might be actually surprised that Georgia, one of the lowest carvings on the education totem pole, has actually instituted a voucher program. During debate regarding the Special Needs bill many Georgia legislators argued the program was simply a method of bringing private school vouchers into the state through a back door method. Basically the back door consists of changing the word “voucher” to “scholarship”, but providing parents with a check is the same no matter what you call it.
I’m not necessarily against the program; however, I’m just very interested in how this will all work out……
As with many new initiatives in education Georgia’s new Special Needs Scholarships got off to a minimal start mainly due to timing and notification.
Here’s the way the numbers currently look based on news articles that appeared last week-----The Georgia Department of Education notes there are currently 200,000 students classified as special needs. Of the 200,000 only 5,750 actually applied to attend one of the 115 private schools deemed “approved” by the Georgia DOE. However, out of the 5,750 students who applied for scholarships ony 904 will actually receive the monetary award for this school year.
What could the reasons be?
Well, one of the main requirements state the student has to have an IEP not just a 504 plan. Even though parentals rights are covered at annual meetings with special needs parents that part of the meeting is often rushed and I get a general feeling that many parents don’t educate themselves on the whole process. As with anything in education some special education teachers do a great job of communicating effectively with parents while others.....
Another requirement is during the previous school year students had to have attended a Georgia public school between the FTE count days in October and in March. Unfortunately my experience with many of the special needs students is they move frequently and play school and school system hopscotch.
Another problem has to do with the date the bill became a law. Governor Sonny Perdue signed the legislation in May, 2007 which meant education officials had to scramble in order to notify private schools regarding an application process to be eligible for students and to notify the parents of special needs students. Obviously there were holes in the process.
By the time parents learned of the opportunity many of Georgia’s private schools had already closed their registration process for the upcoming year, and the state DOE didn’t finalize their list of eligible private schools until July. Many Georgia systems begin their school year during the first week of August.
It would seem, however, that more growth will expand the scholarship program as time goes by much like Florida’s Mackay Scholarships.
A list of the private schools in the program as of July can be seen here.
What do you think about the scholarship process to provide more choice for special needs students?