With the signing of Senate Bill 10 on Friday, Gov. Sonny Perdue gave parents of special-needs students the option of using state-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools.
Parents of special needs students can now apply for a voucher equal to the amount of state funding that would have been used to educate their student in a public school and use it toward tuition at a qualified private school.
The voucher program is modeled after Florida’s McKay Scholarship, which assists more than 17,000 students.
Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), who sponsored the legislation, estimates 4,000 Georgia children will use vouchers during the first year of the program. Enrollment is expected to peak at about 15,000 students per year.
The amount of each voucher will depend on the severity of the student’s disability, but will average around $9,000 per year, Johnson said.
Critics of the program argue children could lose protections under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, and that vouchers would not go to the low-income families most in need of help.
Other opponents have suggested it is the first move in creating a voucher system for all students that would weaken the state’s public education system.
Public school teacher and state Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), who supported the bill in the House, however, contends public schools could benefit from the voucher program. He said the increased competition to keep students in the public school system would force public schools to improve their special education programs.
To apply: Parents interested in applying for a voucher can fill out an application at the Georgia Department of Education Web site at www.doe.k12.ga.us. Click on the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship link.