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Voucher bill awaits fill House vote
Eric Johnson Office 2
Sen. Eric Johnson works in his office in Atlanta. - photo by Courier file photo
A bill that would give vouchers to parents of special needs students squeaked its way out of a key Georgia House committee last week.
Senate Bill 10, the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act, cleared the House Education Committee by a 12 to 9 vote Thursday after receiving support from House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) and Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta).
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), now awaits a full House vote expected to come later this week.
Modeled after Florida’s McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program, SB 10 would allow parents of children with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities in public schools to apply for scholarships equal to the state funding for their child’s special education and use it for any other participating public or private school they believe better serves their child’s needs.
Johnson estimates more than 4,000 children will use the vouchers, which should average $9,000 per student, in the first year of availability.
Parents of special needs children throughout the state have championed the bill, but critics fear children could lose protections under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act and vouchers would not go to the low-income families most in need of the help.
Johnson has continued to call these criticisms unfounded and said the program will do more good than harm for students.
He pointed to improved student achievement in the Florida program due to smaller class sizes, lower discipline problems and higher self-esteem.
“Florida has proven that this program works,” the senator said. “Georgia needs to allow this option for our special needs children.”
Johnson said the goal of the measure is to create more access.
“We want to ensure that every disabled child, regardless of wealth or circumstances, has the opportunity to receive the very best education available,” he said.
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