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Friday, May 7, 2010

Special Needs Scholarships

WTUL in Tulsa reports:
A proposed scholarship program for special needs students would easily withstand a federal constitutional challenge and could make Oklahoma a national leader, according to a respected legal expert and a former school superintendent whose child has multiple disabilities.

“Oklahoma would not be breaking new ground with this law but would still be one of the more advanced states when it comes to serving children with special needs,” said Richard “Dick” Komer, senior attorney at the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. “There are already five other states with similar scholarship programs that so clearly constitutional that no one has even tried to challenge them under the federal constitution.”

House Bill 3393, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, creates the Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. Under the bill, students with disabilities (such as those with Down's syndrome or autism) who have an individualized education program (IEP) would qualify for a scholarship to attend any public or private school that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education.

The scholarship program would not require new spending during the downturn, but would merely redirect existing funds that are currently spent on the student.

Other states with similar laws include Florida, Georgia, Utah, Ohio and Arizona, Komer said. He noted the Florida program has been in place since 1999 and now serves approximately 20,000 students with special needs.