Senators Look at Plan to Expand Special Needs Vouchers

Cindy Morley

Friday, February 12th, 2021

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State Senators are looking at a bill that would change requirements in Georgia’s  Special Needs Scholarship program — which some say would increase the number of students receiving vouchers through the program.  The Senate and Youth Education Committee heard testimony on SB 47 Monday and could vote on the legislation as early as today. 

According to Monday’s testimony, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), expands the state’s Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program which was created to provide students who have Individualized Education Plans with scholarships to attend private schools. While opponents of the bill say the scholarships take money away from public schools, those in support of the bill argue that the fund provides options for these students and their parents. 

The number of students who would be eligible under the expanded criteria in SB 47 is not certain at this time. However, one lawmaker stated during Monday’s hearing that the new proposal would result in 58,000 students becoming eligible — although not all would participate. 

SB 47 would waive the current one-year public school attendance requirement for a number of students, including those who:   

  • Have a parent on active military duty 

  • Have been adopted or are in foster care 

  • Previously received a special needs voucher 

  • Apply for a voucher in the 2021-2022 school year and were enrolled in a public school in Georgia during a period when student enrollment was counted in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years, per state law. 

The bill is similar to one introduced last year by then-Senator Renee Unterman. That bill – which as co-sponsored by Gooch, was approved in the Senate during the 2020 session. However, it was never voted on in the  House after Legislators suspended the session because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to testimony, SB 47 would open the voucher program to students with a Section 504 plan under the federal Rehabilitation Act and who have one of 21 conditions specified in the bill, including autism, emotional or behavioral disorder. This is up from 11 conditions in the current bill.