Bill offers vouchers for special needs children

ATLANTA - Some parents could get taxpayers to pay part or all of their private school tuition under a bill that won critical support Thursday.


The state superintendent of schools and the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees each gave a nod to the measure during a meeting with education reporters.

The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act, or Senate Bill 10, would provide limited tuition vouchers to the parents of handicapped children. But its author, Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, acknowledges it's likely to become controversial because it would open the door to vouchers, which have been vigorously opposed by teacher groups and Democrats for years.

Critics of vouchers say they would take needed money out of public schools, even though enrollment-related costs would also shrink as students leave.

Superintendent Kathy Cox said she is offering recommendations for her fellow Republican Johnson on his bill about methods to hold the private schools accountable similar to the way public schools are now.

"If a private school is going to get public money to educate some of our most fragile children ... I do believe with all of my heart that there needs to be accountability," she said.

House Education Chairman Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, is a former public school teacher. His committee went to Florida before the bill was introduced to learn about a popular program there that was the model for Mr. Johnson's proposal.

Mr. Coleman noted that some small school systems already contract with private schools to teach their handicapped students.