Friday, August 27, 2010

Oklahomans urged to apply for special-needs scholarships

The parents of special-needs students in Oklahoma can now apply for scholarships that allow their children to attend private schools, state Rep. Jason Nelson said today.
"The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act became law today, and it's very important that the families of special needs children are aware of this opportunity and take advantage of it," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "This program creates new opportunities for many children who would otherwise be unable to obtain educational services truly tailored to their unique needs."

Under House Bill 3393, children with disabilities who have an individualized education program (IEP) qualify for a scholarship to attend any private school that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education.

The legislation, authored by Nelson and by state Sen. Patrick Anderson, had strong support from many families of children with autism.

The state Board of Education finalized the rules allowing implementation of the scholarship program on August 26, and parents can now contact their resident school district to apply for the program, Nelson said.

"Having visited with many parents of special-needs students, I know how important this scholarship program is to those families," Nelson said. "It will allow those parents to provide the best education and best future possible for their children beginning this school year. Every parent interested in this program should take advantage of it."

The scholarship program created through House Bill 3393 does not require new spending, but merely redirects existing state funds that are currently spent on the student.

Other states with similar laws include Florida, Georgia, Utah, Ohio and Arizona. The Florida program has been in place since 1999 and now serves approximately 20,000 students with special needs. House Bill 3393 closely mirrors the Florida and Georgia laws.

The legislation has been named the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act to honor the memory of one of the Gov. Brad Henry’s daughters, who died of a rare neuromuscular disease as an infant.

Lawmakers will soon conduct a legislative study on the new law to seek ways to increase its benefit for Oklahoma families. The first meeting will be held Aug. 31 with a second study date to be scheduled later.

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