Special needs students receive scholarships, Florida’s teachers’ union sues

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Hundreds of special needs students finally have access to an innovative scholarship program offering educational services outside of public schools.

It’s a school choice option for which parents of more than 1,200 students with profound disabilities, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and others, have signed up.

Julie Kleffel, for one, is thrilled.

“The cost of Faith’s speech therapy is about $6,500 a year and none of those costs are covered by insurance,” she recently told an Orlando Fox affiliate. Kleffel’s daughter, Faith, has Down syndrome and is in the first-grade.

“When I got the email saying ‘you’re approved’ I just about jumped out of my skin,” she said.

Faith Kleffel is one of 616 students whose parents were notified last week they could begin using their personal learning accounts, according to Step Up for Students, a school choice nonprofit administering the program.

Hundreds more will follow in the coming weeks.

The scholarships allow for a combination of services and providers, averaging $10,000 per student, and include therapists, specialists, curriculums, technologies and private school classes.

Not everyone is celebrating. The Florida Education Association, the state teachers’ union, is seeing red, as in $18 million in potential funding out the door.

It’s a small amount considering Florida’s K-12 public education budget topped $20 billion this year. But the FEA increasingly sees school choice programs as a mounting threat — perhaps for good reason.

A separate program involving scholarships for the poor now affords 69,000 economically disadvantaged students private school tuition. Those scholarships are based on a donation system where private sector donors receive tax credits for their contributions. No actual tax dollars are used.

The FEA is suing to kill that program.

It’s also suing separately to overturn the legislation that created Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for Florida’s special needs students. Passed in May, it included a range of items all under the banner of education, including a dropout prevention program, career education, hazing reforms and an expansion of the of the tax credit scholarships.

The FEA says the items are too dissimilar and violate Florida’s constitutional requirement that all items in a given bill be related under a single subject.

“This was a sneaky way for the legislative leaders to enact measures that had already failed,” FEA vice president Joanne McCall said in a statement shortly after the union first filed its lawsuit. “It is an outrage that corporate voucher expansion was tacked into an unrelated bill and slipped into law.”

Read more at Watchdog.org

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog


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