Nelson files changes to special needs scholarship law

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 21-Jan-2011

On Thursday (January 20), state Rep. Jason Nelson filed amendments to the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Student with Disabilities Program Act.

Nelson filed House Bill 1744, which makes changes to the program created last year by House Bill 3393.

The amendments expand school choice options for special-needs students and provide increased accountability. The most significant change is placing the State Department of Education, rather than school districts, in charge of the scholarship program.

“Clearly, having the school districts involved won’t work,” said Nelson, an Oklahoma City Republican. “The program is very simple – maybe that is the problem. Almost since I introduced House Bill 3393 last year some school districts have chosen to make this a nightmare for everybody involved. Placing the State Department of Education in charge of administering the law should solve the problems created by these districts.”

Among other things, House Bill 1744

•                places the State Department of Education in charge of administering the program rather than school districts,
•                provides the additional option of easier transfer between public schools,
•                clarifies that the parents of a student using the scholarship are solely responsible for the education of their child,
•                clarifies that children of members of the United State Armed Forces who transfer into Oklahoma from out of state are exempt from the requirement that they had to attended public school in Oklahoma the previous year,
•                requires the State Department of Education to establish a hotline and website to provide information to parents and schools about the program, and
•                includes several provisions to increase accountability.

“I can assure you that the amendment language I’ve introduced today is not the final draft of the bill,” Nelson said. “I held two interim studies this summer when the law went into effect to listen to ideas to make the program better and I will continue to listen as the bill move through the legislative process.

“It is important that we continue to improve this program. I’ve visited with so many parents who tell me that this program has changed their child’s life for the better. It is rewarding to know that this program helps these kids while protecting public schools.”

House Bill 1744 can receive a hearing soon after the Oklahoma Legislature convenes in session on Feb. 7.