Special needs children in Georgia may soon be able to forgo the required year of enrollment in a public school before they can receive a voucher that uses taxpayer dollars to pay for private school.
Georgia's voucher program began in 2007 and has more than 2,500 students enrolled. That's up from 1,600 students in 2009.
The law defines special needs as students with an individualized education program written by the school district. That can include children who are autistic, deaf, blind, disabled and emotionally disturbed. It also can apply to a student with a learning disability or speech impairment.
Under the legislation, the state Board of Education would be responsible for deciding whether a child's medical condition warrants waiving the one-year public school enrollment requirement. The board would also be able to force the local school district to speed up the process of writing an IEP for the child, which can take months depending on the student's disability and often involves numerous meetings with parents and experts to work out the best strategy for teaching the student.
National experts say 11 states, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wis., offer voucher programs for low-income or special-needs students. No state has a universal voucher program for all students.
Georgia lawmakers have until Thursday to approve all remaining legislation before the session ends, including the voucher bill. It passed both the House and Senate, but senators amended the measure slightly, which means it must be approved by the House again before it goes to the governor's desk.