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Parents disagree over special needs addition to school funding bill

HB 21 started off as legislation boosting much needed funding for public schools. However, a recent addition to the bill would give parents of special needs students thousands of dollars for tuition at private institutions through Education Savings Accounts. (Photo: Pixabay)

The countdown is on at the Texas State Capitol. Lawmakers have one week left to pass bills. One of the education bills, House Bill 21, now has parents of special needs children split.

The bill started off as legislation boosting much needed funding for public schools. However, a recent addition to the bill would give parents of special needs students thousands of dollars for tuition at private institutions through Education Savings Accounts. It's a move parents don't agree on.

Melissa Bodenger's son, Josh, turns 11 years old this month. He was diagnosed with autism at age four and goes to a private school designed to meet his needs.

"We've had such amazing success with him at that school, and I just really want to see other parents be able to have the opportunity to see if that works for their child," Bodenger says.

If passed, HB 21 would provide special needs students with about $9,000 per year in tuition at private or charter schools. It's something the Association of Texas Professional Educators is fighting against.

"This is going to end up being a coupon to people who are really already going to send their kids there," says Mark Wiggins, ATPE lobbyist.

Charles Luke is also a parent to a student with special needs. His son, 13-year-old Carson, has spina bifida and attends public school.

"He's mentally acute. He's a wonderful child, but he's confined to a wheelchair most of the time," says Luke.

Luke explains, he doesn't want his tax payer money going to private institutions. He's also concerned about special needs students forfeiting the federal rights they're granted in public schools through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when they go private. It's an issue he brought up with lawmakers.

"They say, 'Well, if parents want to give up those protections … that's their business. That's their option,' but I don't view it that way. I view it as the protections are for the children not for the parents," says Luke.

However, Bodenger wants specialty schools for students with special needs to be a choice more families can afford.

"This is an option. It's something a parent can look at and decide, 'Is this something that would work well for my child or are they better suited in the environment that they're in?'" Bodenger explains.

Next the House will decide if they want to keep HB 21 with the special needs funding changes the senate added. It could be a hard decision for some lawmakers since the senate also added a half a billion dollars in other funding many districts desperately need.

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