Parents of special needs students in the Atlanta Schools rejoiced this past week when Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed into law the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship bill. Formerly known as Senate Bill 10, the proposed voucher plan has been watched closely by parents and educators in Atlanta Schools.
The law will use state funds to offer vouchers to parents of children with special needs in order to provide them with more appropriate school options. Atlanta Schools’ teacher, and parent of a child with autism, Linda Bryant Butler expressed her pleasure in a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “…parents like me are ecstatic that we will now have a choice. If one school doesn’t work for Xavier during his 12-year academic career, I know he won’t be trapped. He will have the choice to seek a better education elsewhere,” she said.
Parents in Atlanta Schools and throughout the state will have the option of using vouchers to attend a different public school or a private school. In order for a child to be eligible, he or she must have a documented developmental disability (such as Autism or Tourette’s Syndrome) and have attended public school for at least one year. Estimates are that the program will provide $4,000 worth of vouchers in the first year, and that amount will increase to about $15,000 a year. Atlanta Schools’ educators are expressing some mixed feelings over the vouchers.
Proponents say that this is the only way Atlanta Schools can truly meet the needs of these exceptional learners. It simply isn’t possible to have a specialist for every disability at every school. They also point out that Atlanta Schools’ teachers already struggle to meet the needs of students without developmental delays.
Opponents express concern over both the standards of private schools, and the removal of funds from the public school sectors. Atlanta Schools receives government funding on a per pupil basis, and the loss of an additional $9,000 (the estimated average voucher payout) per student could weaken the abilities of the public schools.
Governor Perdue has stated that this law will give parents more control over their children’s education, and that they “understand the needs of their child in the way only a parent can.”
Atlanta Schools have debated voucher programs, along with the rest of the nation, for years. But if the program is successful, Atlanta Schools may find itself copied around the country.
Not all Atlanta Schools’ parents with special needs children will opt for the program. If a child is successful at his current Atlanta School, no changes will be made. But if parents are interested in applying for the scholarship program they should visit the Georgia Department of Education website at http://www.doe.k12.ga.us and click on the link for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship.