Special needs scholarship bill passes Oklahoma state Senate

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 13-Apr-2010

Legislation designed to support special needs children with scholarships and to empower families to direct the care of such children passed the Oklahoma state Senate on Tuesday (April 13). Senator Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican, shepherded the bill to passage in the upper chamber. State Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, also a Republican, is author of the legislation.

House Bill 3393 would modify the self-directed care pilot program for disabled students, and provide scholarships for special needs students, including those with autism. The measure was approved on a vote of 27-17.

In debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Anderson fielded questions from four colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle: Debbie Leftwich of Oklahoma City, Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne, Jim Wilson of Tahlequah and Earl Garrison of Muskogee. The questions dealt with the financial impact on public schools, contentions that public schools do a good job dealing with special needs children, and related issues.

The Senate version includes two amendments that originated with Senator Jay Paul Gumm of Durant in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Both of his changes passed on voice votes. One provides a local public school district would retain money spent on services for children with Individualized Education Plans if those children leave their original public school. Some supporters of the core bill argue against this provision, contending resources for “special ed” should follow special ed students rather than be linked to systems.

The other amendment requires funding for the scholarships to come from elsewhere in state government, and not from the common education budget.

Supporting Anderson’s bill were Cliff Aldridge of Midwest City, Don Barrington of Lawton, Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City, Bill Brown of Broken Arrow, Harry Coates of Seminole, Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City, Brian Crain of Poteau, John Ford of Bartlesville, Jay Paul Gumm of Duran, James Halligan of Stillwater, Tom Ivester of Elk City, Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City, Mike Johnson of Kingfisher, Clark Jolley of Edmond, Ron Justice of Chickasha, Todd Lamb of Edmond, Bryce Marlatt of Woodward, David Myers of Ponca City, Dan Newberry of Tulsa, Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City, Steve Russell of Oklahoma City, Mike Schulz of Altus, Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa and Anthony Sykes of Moore.

Gumm, Ivester and Johnson are Democrats; the remaining supporters were Republicans.

Voting against the bill were Tom Adelson of Tulsa, Randy Bass of Lawton, Sean Burrage of Claremore, Kenneth Corn of Poteau, Mary Easley of Tulsa, Judy Eason McIntyre of Tulsa, Jerry Ellis of Valliant, Garrison, Leftwich, Lerblance, Susan Paddack of Ada, Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, John Sparks of Norman, Joe Sweeden of Pawhuska, Wilson and Charles Wyrick of Fairland.  All the foes were Democrats.

In committee two weeks ago, Senators Leftwich and Paddack had said their votes were “yes, for now,” but they opposed the measure on the floor.

Missing Tuesday’s Senate floor vote on H.B. 3393 were Ballenger, Brogdon, Crutchfield and Mazzei.

Supporters of the bill include state Rep. Anastasia Pittman, Oklahoma City Democrat, parents from Trinity School in Oklahoma City and Town & Country School in Tulsa, and advocates for the disabled. Rep. Jason Nelson of Oklahoma City, principal designer of the bill, has said “It only makes sense to provide the same set of choices to the parents of these students that are currently provided to the school districts.” 

H.B. 3393 would amend the Self-Directed Care Pilot Program administered by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, making it statewide and permanent. Under the program, individuals with developmental disabilities are given an allowance in which they direct services rather than a third party. This creates savings shared by the individuals directing and receiving the service and with the Department of Human Services. Advocates contend H.B. 3393 allows Oklahoma to expand services even in the midst of the current budget crisis. 

On March 4, the original version of the bill passed the state House of Representatives on a vote of 78-19.

Due to the amendments added to the measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill now moves to a joint House-Senate conference committee for resolution of differences. Rep. Nelson and Sen. Anderson told CapitolBeatOK they are optimistic about the bill’s prospects.