Bill would help parents adjust funding for Fla. special needs scholarships

Florida lawmakers are advancing bills that would make it easier for parents of special needs children who use vouchers to attend private schools to update their evaluations.

Funding for students who receive McKay Scholarships is tied to the evaluations students can receive from school districts every three years. But state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said sometimes students who use the scholarships need to update their evaluations more often.

For example, if students participate in a school district hospital/homebound program, and then want to move to a private school using a voucher, they could receive McKay Scholarships worth just a few thousand dollars. That’s because per-pupil funding for hospital/homebound is typically a fraction of the funding public schools would receive to educate the same children. As a result, scholarships for those students may be less likely to cover the cost of private school tuition.Parents who use Gardiner Scholarships, a newer program for children with special needs, can ask their school district for an updated evaluations at any time, Young noted. She’s sponsoring a bill (SB 564) that would allow parents who use McKay Scholarships to do the same. It received its second unanimous committee vote Wednesday from the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

It’s a minor tweak. It’s simple and uncontroversial. But it could hint at a larger, more complicated issue.

Last month, when the bill cleared the Senate Education Committee, state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said some school districts are concerned about the costs of evaluating children who don’t attend public schools — and therefore don’t generate funding for districts.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act governs the system of Individualized Education Plans and evaluations for students with special needs. The law and its predecessors were designed in eras when public school districts were responsible for educating all the students who lived in their geographic areas. That’s changed with the advent McKay and Gardiner Scholarships, as well as the growth of charter schools.  The system as a whole may be due for an update.

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