Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law that will completely change the way severely disabled children are educated in the state.
The Individualized Education Act was signed into law earlier this week, offering parents more freedom in choosing how their child is educated. Parents will also be given more money to use for their child's education, which broadens their options when choosing a private school.
"As Catholics, we believe that the parents are the primary educators of their children. The first and the primary and the best. And they know their children better than anyone else," Superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Memphis Janet Donato said.
Donato has been a supporter of the bill, which will aid 18,000 special education students in Tennessee, since it was first introduced.
While supporters of the bill feel that the additional funding will offer parents more choice for special needs students who do not do well in the public school system, critics argue that the extra money does not come with enough safeguards. Traditional vouchers offers parents whose children attend failing public schools a way to afford private schooling. However, the new law would offer additional freedom in how that extra money is able to be spent.
The new law would create an education savings account program which will offer additional funds of around $6,600 to parents of special needs children.
Although public schools already have programs for special needs students, Donato argues that the programs do not offer the children what they need to succeed to their fullest potential.
"They do some extra help. That doesn't mean they can not learn. They learn fine. But they need that extra special individual attention. And of course, that costs money," Donato said.
The additional funding will allow parents to pay for tuition and fees, classroom materials, and tutoring, as well as therapy for special needs students.
"It is a significant achievement that Tennessee has passed its first ever school choice law. The passage of this bill will have a major positive impact on children with special needs across the state," said Beacon CEO Justin Owen. "This new program will offer children with special needs a unique academic experience that the current one size fits all system does not provide," Owen stated. "Every child deserves a quality education, and we thank our partners and the legislators who voted in favor of education savings accounts for standing with us."
Tennessee is the 22nd state to implement the private school choice law.