Owasso School Board Reverses Decision On Controversial Special Needs Funding Law

Thursday, December 16th 2010, 6:18 pm
By: News On 6

NewsOn6.com & Emory Bryan, News On 6

OWASSO, Oklahoma – The Owasso School Board reversed its decision on a controversial state law Thursday night.

House Bill 3393, also called the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act, requires schools to provide scholarships for children with special needs. The law went into effect earlier this year.

In a meeting that lasted less than 90 seconds, the school board voted on an issue the superintendent said he discussed with board members, separately and privately beforehand.  That's why he said they were able to vote, with no discussion, to change a position they held so strongly just two months ago.

11/8/2010 Related Story: Parents Fight For Special Needs Funding At Owasso School Board Meeting

Superintendent Clark Ogilvie would not discuss the vote on camera, but said Owasso would immediately start paying private school tuition for the two students who applied for it.

The parents of one of those children were happy with the news.

"We're so thrilled the school decided to do the right thing, no matter what they reason, whether it's the reason they gave or other motivations," said Tom Farrell. "We're just happy they decided to comply with state law."

The school board vote came under threat of being ousted from their positions by a lawsuit over their previous vote.

State Representative Jason Nelson said that surely played a part.

"What the Owasso school board did is basically get themselves out from under that cloud and allow the families to go ahead and receive the benefits allowed by law and allow us to work together in good faith at the Capitol," he said.

But Nelson, who wrote the law, said his promise to have the state directly bear the cost and responsibility appears to be enough to make school boards reconsider.

"As quickly as we can, move the administration of the program to the state department of education so the school districts are out of the picture," he said. "A lot of the concern they have is over the liability they have for these kids who go to private school."

For the parents, it's an immediate financial lift: $10,000 a year for the Farrells, who have a 6th grade son enrolled in a private school in Tulsa.

"He's with kids who are like him, he fits in, he's not ostracized, and for the first time he says, 'Mom, I Like school, he doesn't dread going to school," Loretta Farrell said.

The superintendent said, off camera, that the applications would be processed tomorrow morning and that parents would be reimbursed for tuition already paid this year - not just going forward.

Owasso is the only district of those who voted to ignore the law to reverse their decision.

Several other area schools, including Jenks, Broken Arrow and Union, have said they will not comply with the HB 3393.  Tulsa Public Schools honored six scholarships, but said it will not accept any more.

10/11/2010 Related Story: Tulsa Union, Bixby Schools Refuse To Comply With Special Needs Funding Law