ATLANTA (AP) - More special education students would be eligible for subsidies to attend private schools under a plan that has passed the General Assembly.
The Senate voted 30-18 on Monday to approve changes the House made to Senate Bill 47, sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.
Georgia’s existing special needs scholarship program grants money to about 5,000 students who have individualized education plans and have left public schools. The bill would expand eligibility to public school students who have accommodation plans under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Students with 504 plans may be performing on grade level but need some kind of help.
The bill the Senate proposed would have allowed students with a 504 plan or a diagnosis of a particular disability to qualify. That raised concerns that some parents might obtain bogus disability diagnoses to access the funds. But the House proposal requires a 504 plan from a public school, as well as a diagnosis of a disability.
Several other bills that would expand subsidies for private school and homeschooling have failed, leaving the special education bill as the only one likely to become law.
Supporters say public schools aren’t a good fit for every child and that Georgia should help pay for specialized learning environments for students with disabilities.
Opponents of the bill said that because there’s no academic evaluation of the current program, it’s unclear whether it works. They also said they don’t want to drain more money from public education to send to private schools. They also say there are few private schools available in rural areas.
About 200,000 of Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students have individualized education plans. Fewer than 5,000 students participate in the current 14-year-old program, which costs about $33 million. Each student gets an average of $6,700 a year under the current program, although individual amounts vary.
There are 58,000 more students with 504 plans. A fiscal note estimates spending between $7 million and $89 million because it’s impossible to know how many parents will enter the program. With such low usage among current students, supporters say they believe fewer than 2,000 students would be added.
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