Governor Signs Bill To Modify Special Needs Funding Law

Friday, May 27th 2011, 5:40 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY – There are new developments in the ongoing battle between Oklahoma school districts and the state government over House Bill 3393, the law requires public schools to provide funding for parents who choose to send their special needs children to private school.

Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation Friday modifying the bill, also known as the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act. Under House Bill 1744, the Department of Education will oversee the program, not school districts.

"Last year, several school districts failed to provide scholarships to eligible special needs students, flagrantly violating the law," said Nelson. "[House Bill 1744] will provide consistency and certainty for students and parents who choose to participate in the program."

According to a news release from the Governor's office, the Department of Education will have the authority to reduce state aid to school districts that have "failed to comply with provisions of the program since it went into effect nine months ago."

Several Tulsa area schools originally voted to ignore the law last year, claiming it was unconstitutional.

"I've been stunned by the contempt some school districts have shown toward the law and these children," Nelson said. "House Bill 1744 will ensure rogue officials don't continue to cause problems for these students and their parents."

The bill also clarifies what parents can use the scholarships to pay private schools for, including assessment fees, services and therapies to address the needs of the students.

According to the State Department of Education, 52 students from 18 school districts are currently using the scholarship.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed against four Tulsa area school districts on behalf of more than 20 parents of special education students. The suit, filed on April 25, 2011 by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, seeks a cash settlement from Tulsa, Jenks, Union and Broken Arrow Public Schools.

5/2/2011 Related Story: Parents Of Special Needs Students File Lawsuit Against Four Tulsa-Area School Districts

Earlier this year, Jenks, Union, Broken Arrow, and Liberty voted to sue Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt over the law.