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Originally posted October 27, 2011
Barbara Ford speaks at the Parents Legislative Action Committee luncheon Wednesday in Jenks. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
by: KIM ARCHER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
JENKS - School vouchers for special-needs students take away limited resources from children who remain in public education, a group of Tulsa-area parents told legislators Wednesday.
"It infuriates me because it will hurt my family. I'm devastated that is an option," said one parent, who said her developmentally delayed 5-year-old son is blossoming in Jenks Public Schools' special education program.
Seven local lawmakers participated in a panel discussion coordinated by the Tulsa Area Parents Legislative Action Committee held at the Jenks Education Service Center.
Among the legislative panelists was Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, co-sponsor of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act. The law provides taxpayer-funded scholarships so parents can send their disabled students to private schools.
"The reality is that when you've got 96,000 (students) on IEP (individualized education programs) you're going to find that the public schools cannot meet the needs of every child," Nelson said.
The public dollars allocated for each child follow that child wherever they go, whether it is a public school or a private school, he said.
But Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, said school districts don't pay for their programs in that way.
"Just because one child leaves the public school and takes the money with them does not decrease the hard costs that it takes to run that special program in the public school," he said. "That is an inherent problem with these ... scholarship programs."
Melissa Abdo, a committee member who moderated the program, asked whether it was true that additional disabilities are being paid for in the scholarships than were claimed in students' federal IEPs in public schools.
"It's true. It's true," a chorus of parents said.
Abdo said that means more state aid is going to private schools per student than for public schools.
Nelson said the amount of the scholarship is supposed to be based on a student's IEP and said the state Education Department calculates the scholarship amounts.
Nancy McKay, chief financial officer for Jenks Public Schools, asked how the private schools will be accountable for providing services for the child's disability with public taxpayer dollars.
"We're required to do it. So how will they be assessed?" she said.
Nelson replied that private schools will be accountable to parents. He then asked if parents knew why IEPs and due process existed, a question that prompted chatter from parents who said they were well aware of them.
"It's to protect the student against the government schools," Nelson said, prompting gasps and moans throughout the room.
"Then please tell me what due process is for," he said. "Everybody was repulsed when I said that, but somebody tell me what it is for."
One parent said it is a way for parents to get what their children need in public education. Years ago, she said she asked for more speech pathology for her son because he had trouble speaking.
"I got it because they knew and I knew my (federal) rights. That is 90 percent of the problem you have with special-ed parents. They do not know their rights," she said.
Some parents said private schools don't necessarily have the resources to meet special-needs children like public schools do. One parent noted that of 33 schools approved to accept the Henry scholarships, only one is nonreligious and aimed at caring for disabled children.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education will vote Thursday on adding nine schools to the list of those accepting Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships. They are:
Rep. Jason Nelson speaks about special-needs scholarships Wednesday while Reps. Jeannie McDaniel (from left), Jerry McPeak and Jadine Nollan listen. The lawmakers were taking part in a Parents Legislative Action Committee luncheon in Jenks. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Heather McAdams, who has students in Owasso schools, voices her concerns during the Oklahoma legislators panel Wednesday at the Parents Legislative Action Committee luncheon in Jenks. (Union School Board member Heather McAdams also attended the meeting.) STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
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Special-needs vouchers to top $700,000 - October 18, 2011
Union, Jenks repond to state criticism - September 29, 2011
Schools argue lawsuit claims 'untrue' - May 3, 2011
Parents of special needs students sue 4 districts - April 29, 2011
School daze - April 29, 2011
School boards to sue Attorney General - January 25, 2011
Union votes not comply with new law - October 12, 2010