Educating our educators on Senate Bill 47

Educating our educators on Senate Bill 47

Educating our educators on Senate Bill 47

group of students

We have some great news to share! Lawmakers in the Georgia House are likely to take up Senate Bill 47 as soon as today. SB47 makes vital improvements and updates to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an important way we can serve Georgia families and the special-needs community, as many of these students have been left behind due to school closures, learning loss, and lack of access to crucial therapies. 

Among other key changes, SB47 would:

  • Expand the program to include a limited list of students with special needs (including autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and dyslexia) who have a 504 plan and formal diagnosis from a licensed doctor.
     
  • Allow students who attended a public special needs preschool in Georgia to participate.
     
  • Allow students with special needs who are adopted from foster care to access the program immediately.
     
  • Make other updates to the scholarship program in line with the renewed need among families for help due to COVID-19.

 

 

Students are not all the same, so their education shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all model. 

 

Sadly, the Georgia School Board Association is lobbying hard against SB47. The organization recently sent an email to supporters listing a number of objections to the measure and urging people to oppose it.


Here are those objections and our responses from the Georgia Center for Opportunity team:

There is no requirement that a student be re-evaluated to determine the students’ continued needs or eligibility. For example, an elementary student might have an IEP to receive speech therapy that they would not need after a few years.”

This seems like a red herring. It’s unfair to burden both public school systems and parents with constant revaluations in an attempt to catch a handful who no longer warrant an Individualized Learning Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. This would also create a massive burden on schools to evaluate kids who are no longer in the public school system.

The bottom line is that if a child is succeeding in a new environment, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean we should take them away from that school and put them back in an environment where they were not succeeding. We must prioritize the needs of individual students and get them the help they need. That standard is even more important for our neighbors in the special-needs community.

“There is no requirement that a private school provide the services in the IEP or 504 plan that the taxpayers are funding them to receive.”

No, but parents aren’t going to send their child to a school (especially if they need to come out of pocket with resources to do so) if the school cannot or is not meeting the child’s needs.

“There is no report to the taxpayers as to whether the students are receiving services or not.”

“Receiving services” is not an indicator of success. Children who are enrolled in public schools are also “receiving services,” but if their families choose to leave based on this scholarship, those services presumably are not meeting their needs. Parents have their children in the school of their choice voluntarily and they aren’t going to choose a school that can’t meet their child’s needs.

“Parents must give up all federal rights under IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to take the voucher.”

IDEA was something disability advocates had to fight for so that public schools would treat students with special needs the right way. IDEA rights only apply to public schools, so by definition if a child is not in public school, those specific rights do not apply.

This doesn’t mean that these students are being mistreated. In fact, a parent has the ability to leave any private school that isn’t serving their child well, which is currently not the case for public schools. If a child returns to public school at any time, their rights under IDEA are still fully intact. 

An imperfect analogy: You carry insurance on your car in case something happens. Then you move to a large city and can either walk or take the subway everywhere, so you sell the car. Someone might say, “But you gave up your insurance!” No, you gave up your car.

“There has never been an independent evaluation of the voucher program so we have no idea about a number of things including its effectiveness.”

There is literally a report that comes out on the program every year that includes 40 pages or so of information including academic performance data.

Parental satisfaction has been the major measure for accountability for this program and nothing in this bill changes that. That is completely inconsistent with a belief in transparency and accountability for the use of taxpayer dollars.

The issue lands here: Providing quality education to all students should be the goal of our education system. That system must prioritize the needs of individual students and families. When quality education is not accessible to a child — for whatever reason — we must provide options. It is our responsibility to give each child a sense of purpose and belonging as we prepare them for their future.

 

 

Aidan’s story: How a private school saved a young man’s life

Aidan’s story: How a private school saved a young man’s life

Aidan’s story: How a private school saved a young man’s life

Aidan's Story

“Every day was truly a dark day.”

That’s how Tiffany Pearce describes life during the hardest weeks of trying to care for her son, Aidan. Diagnosed with bipolar with mania, on top of an earlier diagnosis of autism and sensory integration disorder, Aidan couldn’t do most things we take for granted—everything from communicating his feelings to using the restroom. 

But tragically, that extended to Aidan trying to hurt himself during his manic episodes. To help, Tiffany would try to hold Aidan to prevent injuries. The results from this strong eight-year-old boy were that Tiffany herself would often get injured.

“He was having episodes three to four times a day lasting anywhere from one hour to three or four,” Tiffany says. “With these episodes, it’s like he didn’t know who he was at the time.”

When the manic episode calmed down and Aidan would recover, he would look at the blood on his mother and ask, “Why don’t you move out and leave. I don’t want to hurt you any more.”

Tiffany took her son to a long list of doctors and specialists for help before he was eventually admitted to the Atlanta-based Peaceford Hospital, a behavioral health treatment facility. But even that didn’t help. Aidan continued to struggle. It was all made worse by the fact that Tiffany could not stay with him at night.

“I’ll never forget the time he looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, I want to be in heaven.’ You just feel completely helpless as a parent at that moment,” says Tiffany. “To hear an eight-year-old say that is devastating.”

Later on, Tiffany waged a battle with the insurance company to move Aidan from Peachford to a residential facility where they would better be able to serve his needs. At the same time, she had to make a choice about where to send the young man to school.

 

 

It was the first time his mother heard, “we want Aidan.”

All students deserve the chance to succeed.

But Tiffany soon discovered that not many schools were willing to support a child like Aidan. The local public schools in Cobb County wanted to put him on an EBD (Emotional and Behavioral Disorder) satellite campus, but Aidan’s doctors and therapists said that would have been detrimental to his behavioral and development issues.

Thankfully, there was another option: CORE Community School, a private school in Atlanta. 

“I’ll never forget them saying, ‘We want him. We want Aidan.’ That was the first time I felt hope in a year, because he deserves to be wanted. All kids should feel that. They deserve that,” Tiffany says.

Today, Aidan is thriving at this private school that prioritizes serving students with unique needs and challenges.

“Being at school is the first time in a year and a half that I see Aidan smile,” Tiffany says. “I didn’t think I would see that again. I wondered if this boy with the biggest heart would ever feel like he was worth anything. And he did here.”

 

 

Georgia Senate approves special needs scholarship expansion | WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Georgia Senate approves special needs scholarship expansion | WASHINGTON EXAMINER

A bill that would expand the state’s special needs scholarship program was approved Wednesday by the Georgia Senate.

The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program offers scholarships to students with individualized education plans to attend a private school or a public school of their choice. Senate Bill 47 would make the 58,000 public school students with 504 plans eligible to apply for the program…

Corey Burres, a spokesperson for the Georgia Center For Opportunity, said the measure is the first step to help the many special needs students looking for education options.

“This pandemic has shown a greater need for an expansion of customized services for students in underserved communities,” Burres said.

Georgia Senate approves special needs scholarship expansion | CENTER SQUARE

Georgia Senate approves special needs scholarship expansion | CENTER SQUARE

Georgia Senate approves special needs scholarship expansion | CENTER SQUARE

A bill that would expand the state’s special needs scholarship program was approved Wednesday by the Georgia Senate.

The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program offers scholarships to students with individualized education plans to attend a private school or a public school of their choice. Senate Bill 47 would make the 58,000 public school students with 504 plans eligible to apply for the program…

Corey Burres, a spokesperson for the Georgia Center For Opportunity, said the measure is the first step to help the many special needs students looking for education options.

“This pandemic has shown a greater need for an expansion of customized services for students in underserved communities,” Burres said.

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

As the Georgia Legislature reconvenes next week, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is calling on lawmakers to make poverty-fighting measures one of their top goals. Along these lines, GCO has released the following 5 recommendations to reduce poverty in Georgia and expand economic mobility:

Civil Asset Forfeiture

GCO produced a report (PDF download) examining Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow for an arrested person’s property to be seized, sold, and the proceeds used for law enforcement purposes, even if a person is not convicted of a crime. Our report makes several recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in this program. GCO will seek to have our recommendations passed into law.

Occupational Licensing

Following up on legislation passed last year benefiting spouses of our brave military personnel, GCO will support legislation to allow many other people who move to Georgia and hold an occupation license to immediately be granted a provisional license. This will allow these new Georgians to immediately go to work and support their families.

Criminal Justice Reform

GCO will support legislation that seeks to remove suspending the driver’s license of a person late on their child support payments. We approach this topic with sensitivity, knowing these payments are meant to support children, but losing a driver’s license impacts the debtor’s ability to work—and thus the ability to pay. There are better ways to hold people accountable for past due child support.

Education Scholarship Accounts

GCO has long supported empowering parents by creating Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). We will support such legislation again this year. ESAs take the state portions of a child’s education funds and allow parents to seek other educational pathways for their child. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19, where face-to-face instruction is limited but still extremely important to a child’s development.

Special Needs Scholarship Program

Last year, GCO championed legislation to fix a loophole in Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship Program that has been keeping thousands of otherwise eligible children out of the program. The legislation passed the Georgia Senate, but was sidelined when the pandemic hit our state. We will work to see this legislation pass both Legislative Chambers and be signed successfully by Governor Kemp this year.

The GCO team will keep you updated throughout the session as we work on these priorities. Keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates and be sure to join us for Get Buzz’d a live update on Facebook from our VP of Policy, Buzz Brockway. Buzz shares his insight into how policies will impact your everyday life.

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps:

The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

By Shana Burres

Cody and Estelle are a young married couple living in a suburban neighborhood. Cody has a full-time job and Estelle is a nanny so she can have their daughter with her at work. They make just enough money to pay the rent on their small home and pay their bills, but there is rarely anything left over each month. They are not middle class but they are above the poverty line, and they are facing a potential financial crisis because of health care costs.  

Cody’s work offers an insurance plan but does not subsidize the cost and the monthly premium for a family is more than their rent. Because of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they qualify for a government-subsidized plan. The coverage is poor and the deductibles are high. They are one emergency room trip or unexpected surgery away from a dire financial situation.

Cody is working on building a part-time freelance business so they can have some savings and buy a more reliable car. But he is hesitant to promote it because too much of an increase in income will push them over the ACA’s income threshold and they will lose their health care subsidy. They still wouldn’t be able to afford the employer-sponsored plan and would lose coverage entirely. 

They are facing the welfare cliff, forced to choose between self-improvement and maintaining necessary services. If they increase their income, they are at risk of falling into the welfare gap—too much income for services, not enough income to cover the costs.

The implications of the loss of health care coverage reach into their and their daughter’s future. Health insurance, and the associated continuity of care, correlated directly with academic success in the short term and life success in the long term.  At a  basic level, health care means that students are better able to engage in their academics and miss fewer days of school.

In slightly more complex terms, lacking health insurance, along with other factors related to instability, is part of the social determinants of health. These social determinants are a cluster of lived experiences that include food instability, homelessness, and poverty. They are direct predictors of poor health and, as noted, poor health contributes to poorer academic and social outcomes. While programs or funding can often address homelessness and poverty, food instability is a reflection of the resources a family has available to purchase food. For a family like Cody and Estella’s, this may be seen as the choice between groceries and paying for an urgent care visit and a prescription for their daughter. 

For them and the vast majority of people in the United State, health insurance is the barrier to care. People who live at or below the poverty line have access to medical coverage through Medicaid. And families who live far above the poverty line can access health insurance through work or afford to pay for the premiums through the health exchange. However, the evidence shows that children who are near, but not under, the poverty line have the lowest rates of health insurance. These children and their families live in the welfare gap, a reality for many living in Georgia. This means that Georgia’s families need solutions for ongoing health care to support their long-term success.

The most effective solutions are those that acknowledge the immediate needs of families and address the need for policy change. Currently, many programs are aimed at the individual or involve community-based interventions that partner health care with social service delivery systems. And these programs can be useful and effective as solutions to the immediate needs of families living in the welfare gap. Unfortunately, these health management programs do not address the upstream institutional, systemic, and public policy drivers of the distribution disparities. 

Georgia’s families deserve upstream solutions that address the welfare gap and support their efforts to be participants in their health care and long-term outcomes. Three interconnected approaches offer equitable and proven access:

Untether healthcare from employers

According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 55% of people have access to health insurance coverage through their employer. This tethering of health insurance to employment leads to disruptions of coverage due to job loss or change. Therefore, untethering healthcare from its connection to employment would allow people to pursue jobs, education, or entrepreneurship free from the limitation of health insurance access or cost. 

Make shopping for health insurance easier

As cost is the most significant factor influencing people’s access to health insurance, the second approach is to make shopping for health insurance the same as shopping for any other type of insurance. Individuals could compare coverage, cost, and other options across multiple providers, which would empower them to choose the product best suited to their particular needs. Currently, most people have little to no choice in which insurance product they receive from their employer and the cost is more closely related to the company’s ability to negotiate a favorable contract than it is to the types of benefits the employees need. 

Offer government subsidies that do not create welfare cliffs

Of course, employers often also subsidize a portion of their company health insurance plan, and subsidies are one of the ways insurance is made more affordable for their employees.  The third approach, government subsidies, would ensure these benefits are equitable and accessible to the whole population and not reliant on an employer. While government-funded health insurance already exists and subsidies are available through the ACA marketplace, the current method does not address  welfare cliffs or close the welfare gap. Therefore, the policy should be updated to a means-tested  eligibility system that eliminates marriage penalties and the breakpoints that contribute to the welfare cliff. 

For our couple, Cody and Estelle, this new approach to health insurance would allow them to gain sufficient coverage for their whole family without spending a disproportionate amount of their income on health care costs. It would allow Cody to build his freelance business and improve their quality of life without fear of losing health insurance while their income grows. 

Every person in Georgia deserves to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Access to healthcare is a necessary component of their success. These three approaches will remove barriers to access, equalize costs, and ensure support is available to those who need it. 

Shana Burres is an educator, foster parent, and speaker. She holds a Master’s degree in education and, as the former executive director of DASH Kids, is a fierce advocate for equitable outcomes for children of all backgrounds and experiences. Shana currently is an adjunct professor, learning development consultant, and her local Mockingbird HUB home for foster families and their youth.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.