‘Lindsey’s Law’ is focus of September 14 hearing, implementation begins
By Patrick B. McGuigan
Tuesday (September 14) brings the second legislative interim study hearing focused on the Lindsey Nicole Henry Students with Disabilities Scholarships Program, more informally known as “Lindsey’s Law.”
State Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, author of the historic measure, told CapitolBeatOK several school administrators and other officials are expected to participate with members of the Human Services Committee in the discussion.
Under the new law, 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 Oklahoma state Department of Education.
The panel convened Tuesday, August 31 for its first session. Much of that meeting consisted of a presentation by Misty Kimbrough of the Oklahoma Department of Education. The session was held just days after the August 27 effective date of the law.
On Thursday, August 26 the Oklahoma state Board of Education passed special rules to implement the Henry Scholarships. At present, the rules are pending with Governor Brad Henry for final review.
The rules as devised by the staff of Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett are:
“SUBCHAPTER 13. SPECIAL EDUCATION
210:15-13-7. Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program
“(a) Scholarship Requests. When a parent of an eligible student requests a scholarship, they must notify the district of residence. The district of residence is defined as the legal district of residence, unless the child is a child with an IEP who has been on a transfer of any kind for three consecutive years, in which case the district is then defined as the receiving district, as required by 70 O.S. 13-103(d). If a child is on a transfer of any kind, that does not meet the three-year rule, and accepts the scholarship, the transfer is effectively terminated.
“(b) Payments. Payments will be made to the private school on a quarterly basis upon verification of continued enrollment and attendance at the private school. Payments will be made in arrears, following the completion of each quarter. The payments will be made after the private school provides the public school with a quarterly attendance record for each child receiving the scholarship.
“(c) Private School Eligibility. In order to be eligible to accept students on the scholarship, private schools must be accredited by the State Board of Education or another accrediting association approved by the State Board of Education. Only school districts within the state of Oklahoma can be accredited by the State Board of Education. No out of state schools are eligible to participate in the scholarship program.
“(d) Amount of Scholarship.Within ten business days of receipt by the public school district of the parental request the State Department of Education must receive from the public school a request form for a determination of the calculation of the maximum scholarship amount. The State Department of Education must provide the calculation of the maximum amount of the scholarship to the public school in writing within fifteen business days of the receipt of the request. The parent shall be notified of the maximum amount of the scholarship in writing in a timely manner, not to exceed thirty business days from the request. Scholarship amounts will be calculated at the time of the parental request and will not change during the course of the school year regardless of a school district’s mid-year adjustments. The amount of the scholarship will be calculated annually as required by 70 O.S. 13-101.1, Section 2(F)(1). (e) Tracking. School districts providing scholarships shall annually report for child-count and funding purposes, all students who are attending a private school under the scholarship program to the State Department of Education. Students must be reported as Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Students on both the Special Education Child Count and the First Quarter Statistical Report (FQSR) and the Annual Statistical Report (ASR). These scholarship students will also be tracked through the WAVE.”
Kimbrough reported that since the end of the legislative session, she had heard from 96 parents and a dozen schools interested in the program. Most interest came from the Tulsa area, Kimbrough said. She later clarified that included Tulsa proper, Union, Jenks and Sapulpa, with a few contacts from Broken Arrow.
She reported that Sister Catherine Powers, superintendent of Catholic schools in the diocese of Oklahoma City, had contacted her to indicate many or most of her schools are interested in participating in the new scholarship program.
In recent weeks, Kimbrough said, she has also briefed a large number of public school special services directors. Kimbrough detailed the development of participation and reporting forms, and outlined the process of attendance verification and other issues.
In response to demographic questions from state Rep. Mike Shelton, Kimbrough said the interest is coming from both cities with a scattering of contacts from rural areas. Kimbrough told state Rep. Al McAffrey the agency will be tracking “the money that follows the child.”
In response to questions about time or other burdens on the state department, Kimbrough said, “It’s been manageable up to this point.” She predicted the forthcoming posting of information on the state Department’s website will be a time saver both for interested parents and agency officials.
Time will be required to become accustomed to calculations of scholarship amounts, but state officials already have in place a form for district staffs to figure maximum amounts.
Soon after the legislative session, on June 16, Superintendent Garrett sent a letter to all state school district superintendents. In it, she summarized the new law, detailing district responsibilities, private school notification requirements, parent or legal guardian responsibilities, student responsibilities and her own agency’s obligations.
The number of private schools expressing a desire to participate in the scholarship program, which originated as House Bill 3393, has grown somewhat since the August 31 hearing. As of Friday, September 10, 17 schools have signed onto the program, according to the state Education Department website.
These schools are: All Saints Catholic (Norman), Good Shepherd Lutheran School and Child Development Center (Midwest City), Immanuel Lutheran (Broken Arrow), St. Joseph (Muskogee), St. Paul’s Lutheran (Enid), Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic (Tulsa), Town & Country (Tulsa), Villa Teresa (Oklahoma City), Western Oklahoma Christian (Clinton), Bishop John Carroll (Oklahoma City), Holy Trinity (Okarche), Metro Christian (Tulsa), St. Mary’s (Lawton), St. Pius X (Tulsa), Summit Christian (Broken Arrow), Victory Christian (Tulsa) and Wesleyan Christian (Bartlesville).
Rep. Nelson, a Republican, and state Rep. Anastasia Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, have devoted time this summer to developing closer ties to the special needs youth community and many of their parents.
In July, they participated in the Development Disabilities Council summer program for young people, and witnessed a debate on the same law that created the new Henry Scholarships.
Nelson’s co-sponsor of the law, which has attracted the scrutiny of national publications, was state Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid.
Chairman of the September 14 hearing on Lindsey’s Law is state Rep. Pam Peterson of Tulsa, a Republican. Co-chairman is Wade Rousellot of Wagoner, a Democrat.
Also in Tuesday’s Human Services interim session will be a study on the children of incarcerated parents in Oklahoma. That session begins at 9:30 p.m. and flows from a request made by state Reps. Jeannie McDaniel and Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, both Democrats. Then, at 10:30 a.m., state Rep. Gus Blackwell of Goodwell, a Republican, will have the opportunity to focus on the study issue he requested, Youth Services.
Republican state Rep. T. W. Shannon of Lawton, a Republican, requested the next interim study subject before the Human Services panel, focused on Interstate Child Support Collection.
It is sure to be a busy week at the Capitol, as several interim studies advance. Meetings on Thursday (September 16) will include a session of the Natural Resources subcommittee (appropriations, budget) and the Human Services Committee.