March 19, 2015
Yesterday, in Tennessee, Excel National provided powerful parent testimony on Education Savings Accounts (ESA) for students with special needs. The parents shared first-hand experiences on the benefits of ESAs before the Senate Committee on Education and House Education Instruction and Programs Subcommittee regarding the Individualized Education Account Act (SB 27 and HB 138). This legislation will ensure parents of special needs students have access to the best education options for their children.
Longwood, Florida resident Julie Kleffel shared with the committee how she felt her local school was not attending to the needs of her daughter with Down syndrome. Florida’s ESA, called a Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA), has made it possible for her daughter, Faith, to maintain a customized learning environment that has been instrumental in her transformation. “The bottom line is that children with special needs and disabilities can be fantastic contributors to our world if we give them the opportunity to learn at the pace and in the environment that is best suited for them.”
John Kurnik from Tampa, Florida explained how he has worked in the education system and is the father of a son with autism, John. John learns best at home and in a small, flexible classroom setting with individualized attention. “In Florida, we’ve removed the limits of what can be offered regarding the possibilities for educational growth in these children by pushing beyond an ineffective “cookie cutter” model of learning. We have been given steadfast and confident support by Florida lawmakers to take the reins to help our sons and daughters develop their special abilities to become the best they can be as adults.”
Marc Ashton is the CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also the father of two children with special needs, Allison and Max. He shared that Allison did not have a choice in her education as there was no ESA in Arizona at the time. However, when Max started high school, Arizona had passed the Empowerment Scholarship Account legislation and Max had a choice in his education. The program paid for tuition, a talking computer, braille materials and savings for college and still saved the state thousands of dollars. He is now attending Loyola Marymount University. “I have seen where not having choice severely limited my daughter’s education and where school choice gave my blind son the opportunity to attend the best high school in the state.”
With one in three special needs students in Tennessee not graduating, we thank Senate Committee Chair-and Senate bill sponsor-Dolores Gresham, House Subcommittee Chair Roger Kane and House bill sponsor Debra Moody for the opportunity to speak on this important issue. After the testimonies, both committees passed the bill. The bills will be heard on the Senate and House Floors in the coming weeks.
Excel National Executive Director
Facts about the Individualized Education Act, SB 27 and HB 138:
- The Individualized Education Act provides a customized education for students with special needs, giving parents the flexibility to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs, and services that best fit their children’s needs through an Individualized Education Account (IEA).
- Both pieces of legislation provide for the Department of Education to deduct up to 3 percent from IEA funds to cover the costs of administering the program.
- Both pieces of legislation require the Department of Education to ensure funds are used only for educational purposes; provide parents with a written explanation of the allowable uses of the money and their responsibilities; conduct random, quarterly and annual audits; set up fraud reporting; and have the ability to suspend or terminate any school or provider that fails to comply.