Of the many bills that will be under consideration by the Georgia legislature in 2019, one that we are particularly excited about is a piece of legislation creating “Individualized Education Accounts” (IEAs), which aim to improve our state’s Special Needs Scholarship by removing eligibility barriers and making it more flexible and reflective of each student’s specific needs.
Why do we think it’s necessary to enhance the current law? Because IEAs will allow students like Seth—who have special needs that merit educational alternatives—to get the help they need to learn in an appropriate environment and thrive in life. And it empowers parents—who are best equipped to make decisions for their children—to choose the educational setting that best serves their interests and needs.
Like many kids his age, Seth is an active nine-year old who loves math, reading books (particularly the Harry Potter series), and music. He’s also very energetic and excels at swimming and ice skating. But because he has autism spectrum disorder, Seth struggles to focus in a traditional classroom and acts out when he’s not challenged or given opportunities for physical activity.
Sadly, because Seth was non-verbal from a young age, he started public school kindergarten with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and was placed in a self-contained classroom where he was given academic work well below his abilities. Frustrated by his lack of progress, Seth’s parents got a Special Needs Scholarship and moved him into private school in first grade, where he was more academically challenged. Yet even here, Seth acted out and they knew that this setting didn’t work either.
So, Seth’s parents decided to homeschool their son. His mother now customizes Seth’s academic environment and his school day follows a rhythm of physical activity and school work. For example, Seth might jump on the trampoline for five minutes followed by a focused math or language arts session. Today, Seth performs at his grade level—far beyond his performance in other educational settings.
How will IEAs further enhance Seth’s learning environment? By adding more flexibility to the current law, the unique and burdensome expenses currently incurred by Seth’s parents—music, speech and occupational therapy, curricula, and communication tutoring—will be covered. And for thousands of other families like Seth’s, this means that the scholarship program will benefit children of all income levels and backgrounds—not just those who can afford private or homeschool educations requiring expensive supplemental resources.
Soon, a legislative study committee will discuss needed improvements to the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship. We hope Seth’s story will encourage them to advance IEA’s for all Georgia families with children with special needs.