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Special needs scholarship expansion bill heads to Gov. Kemp

Eligibility expansion in the state’s special needs scholarship program is Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature away from becoming law.

The program offers scholarships for students with individualized education plans to attend a private school or a public school of their choice.

The Senate gave Senate Bill 47 its final approval Monday, agreeing to the House version of the bill, 30-18.

The bill would make public school students with certain disorders on 504 plans eligible to apply for the program. It also would open the program to children who are adopted, in foster care or from a military family based in Georgia.

Individualized education plans provide special education learning environments for children with certain disabilities, while 504 plans require schools to make accommodations for students while they learn alongside their peers. A 504 plan could provide students with extra time for assessments, breakout instruction or modified assignments, among other things.

The bill cleared the House on Thursday, 152-14, before being sent back to the Senate for concurrence.

The House version of the bill is a smaller expansion of the program. The Senate version of the bill expanded the program to all 58,000 public school children in Georgia currently on 504 plans or with a diagnosis from a physician. The Senate initially passed the bill, 30-21, on March 3.

About 5,000 Georgia public school students with individualized education plans are enrolled in the scholarship program, the bill’s sponsors said. The program costs the state more than $30 million based on current enrollment levels.

SB 47 also would allow preschoolers with either plan to qualify for the program and adds reporting requirements for the participating schools.

About 249 private schools are enrolled in the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program. The average scholarship is $6,672, lawmakers said. The average private school tuition in Georgia is about $10,411 per year, according to privateschoolreview.com.

Critics of the bill said voucher programs redirect public school funding to private schools. Proponents said the programs cut government cost and helps marginalized communities.

Under SB 47, the Georgia Board of Education is required to survey program participants and gather data relating to student eligibility, transparency and “awareness of the impact of the program.” The Georgia Department of Education must post details of the program’s cost on its website.

This article was originally posted on Special needs scholarship expansion bill heads to Gov. Kemp

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