With two changes, special needs scholarship passes Senate panel

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 31-Mar-2010

The Senate Appropriations Committee today (Wednesday, March 31) passed House Bill 3393, a proposal to modify the self-directed care pilot program for disabled students, and providing scholarships for special needs students, including those with autism.

The 17-4 vote in favor of the measure came after Senators accepted two amendments, while rejecting a third. The final vote on final passage might overstate support. Two Democratic senators, Debbe Leftwich of Oklahoma City and Susan Paddack of Ada, said “Yes – for now,” as they cast their ballots in committee late this afternoon.

Proposed redirection of existing resources in a special care program was relatively uncontroversial in today’s discussion. Getting closer scrutiny were provisions to allow students with disabilities (such as those with Down’s syndrome or autism) who have an individualized education program (IEP) to qualify for a scholarship to attend any school (public or private) that meets the accreditation requirements of the State Board of Education.

An amendment from Senator Jay Paul Gumm of Durant, would have provided for district court review of conflicts over provision of educational resources between parents and school districts. However, that idea conflicts with existing federal law, Nelson told CapitolBeatOK after today’s vote.

Eleven Republicans voted to table that Gumm Amendment: Patrick Anderson of Enid (Senate sponsor of the measure), Randy Brogdon of Owasso, Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Brian Crain of Tulsa, John Ford of Bartlesville, James Halligan of Stillwater, Ron Justice of Chickasha, Anthony Sykes of Moore, Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa, David Myers of Ponca City and the chairman, Mike Johnson of Kingfisher.

Ten Democrats supported the unsuccessful amendment: Randy Bass of Lawton, Kenneth Corn of Poteau, Johnnie Crutchfield of Ardmore, Mary Easley of Tulsa, Gumm, Charlie Laster of Shawnee, Leftwich, Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne, Paddack and Jim Wilson of Tahlequah. When the bill was approved after consideration of amendments, negative votes came from Corn, Easley, Lerblance and Wilson.

Two other Gumm amendments were accepted on voice votes, one providing a local public school district would retain money spent on services for children with IEPs if those children leave their original public school. The other proposal requires funding for the scholarships to come from elsewhere in state government, and not from the common education budget. Although it passed, the latter amendment attracted some critical questioning.

Gumm said he wanted to support the measure but not at the cost of “children left behind” in public schools. Senator Anderson said the proposal was neither about “failing schools” nor “voucher schemes,” but about choice for special needs students and their parents.

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.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in the state House of Representatives, 78-19, on March 4. 

With the title off the bill and due to the committee amendments, should the proposal pass the full Senate, it will have to clear a House-Senate conference committee and the House anew.