Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guest Blogger: Co-Opting Disabled Children

My husband, Daryl Morton, practices disability law, and I asked him to comment on the attempt by Georgia Republicans to slip vouchers in the door under the guise of helping disabled children. He reviewed the proposed, very troubling law, and his comments are below:

Various news outlets reported today that State Senator Eric Johnson, (R-Savannah) has pre-filed a bill that would require the state of Georgia to pay for disabled students to attend private schools. See, http://www.macon.com/mld/macon/news/local/16216548.htm.

The full text of the bill, Senate Bill 10, is available at

The bill states that “students with disabilities have special needs that merit educational alternatives which will allow students to learn in an appropriate setting and manner”. The bill also characterizes the payments to private schools as being “scholarships” and claims that they are not vouchers. The “scholarship” amount is equal to the amount of the services the disabled child is receiving in their current public school or the cost of private school tuition, whichever is less.

Existing federal special education law, namely the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), can already require public schools to pay private school fees where the district cannot or will not provide the services the disabled child needs. Normally, such “private schools” would be institutions that help children with severe disabilities. Once the child was there, the public school system would still have an obligation to monitor to progress of the child to make sure his or her needs were being met. However, as a general rule, the generic “private school” is not subject to IDEA.

Under the proposed law, the student must already have been determined to have a qualifying disability under IDEA. At that point, the state must pay for that student to attend a qualifying private school upon request from the parent.

No doubt a parent of a disabled child would assume that the private school would provide the special education services the child needs. However, the proposed law provides no such assurances.

First, the law makes clear that the acceptance of the “scholarship” would constitute a “parental refusal to consent to services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act”. Therefore, accepting the scholarship seems to require the parent to declare that their child is no longer in need of special education services. Further, to be an “eligible private school” that could receive disabled students, the proposed law requires little more than the school be solvent enough to expect to be able to operate during the upcoming school year. In fact, there is no requirement that the private school provide any special education services, and the law contains the ominous proviso that “ the creation of this program shall not be construed to expand the regulatory authority of the state… to impose any additional regulation of nonpublic schools beyond those reasonably necessary to enforce the requirements of this article”.

It is clear that Senator Johnson wants to introduce vouchers disguised as “scholarships” and is counting on its purported purpose of helping “disabled” children as making it unpopular to oppose. Moreover, the bill creates the illusion that private schools are truly willing and capable of providing adequate services to disabled children. I have always said that if private schools agreed to subject themselves to the provisions of IDEA in order to receive funds, I would gladly give them a shot. This law does nothing but drain valuable resources from our public schools that do the often thankless job of attending to our most vulnerable children, and entice parents to abandon good special education programs for the lure of private schools that will probably offer nothing of substance.

Remember the source of this legislation, Georgia Republicans. All you need to know about their commitment to disabled children is their callous removal of 2000 families of disabled children from the Katie Beckett Medicaid program with no safety net for those families. Why should their intentions be any different now?


Kathy said...

Hypocrisy is almost as predictable as callousness with these folks. Two months ago, they were berating Mark Taylor for his "repulsive" use of disabled children to garner votes. Now they are using these same disabled children to garner support for a bill ultimately designed to benefit the wealthy, private school crowd. Now THAT is repulsive.

Catherine said...

Thank you for so clearly explaining the problems with this legislation. It's very helpful for those of us who lack the knowledge and understanding of the ins and outs of this issue.

Open+Transparent said...

Tough week for Sonny Do...



And way to make it tough for "middle-income families with severely ill kids" regarding the "Katie Beckett Waiver"