Special needs scholarships rise

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Jennifer Gibson said she just wanted her daughter to have a chance.

That's something she didn't feel she had at Evans Elementary School, where her child with special needs was in the most restrictive setting, Ms. Gibson said.

As soon as she could, she enrolled her at Hope Christian School of Augusta under the new Georgia Special Needs Scholarship, a program approved by lawmakers last year to allow special needs children in public schools to receive scholarships to attend private ones.

"A lot of times you can't make these changes because of the financial obligations," Ms. Gibson said. But she could, with the scholarship.

Friday was the deadline for parents to apply for the scholarships under Senate Bill 10 and final numbers aren't in yet, but the Rev. Ron Burton, headmaster of the small Martinez school, said the program fueled a "significant" increase in enrollment.

About 30 scholarship students pushed enrollment just past 70, he said, and his staff has nearly doubled.

"It's almost as though the Senate bill was written looking specifically at our school," the Rev. Burton said. Hope Christian's "main ministry" is educating children with special needs.

The staff specializes in teaching students with greater challenges and each teacher welcomes the opportunity to work with them, he said.

The personal attention enables students who "weren't academically living up to their full potential" to show their abilities.

"I think it's this approach that attracts parents," the headmaster said.

Ms. Gibson said she chose Hope Christian because it best met the needs of her daughter.

Before Senate Bill 10, she had no choices. Because she was in the psychoeducational program, it was "one room and one room only."

"When I heard that the Senate bill passed, I jumped on it," she said. "I can tell you her behavior has completely changed."

Her daughter is performing well in the more stringent setting with its higher expectations.

"Children are amazing," Ms. Gibson said. "They will do what you put in front of them."

Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, sponsor of the legislation, said he is pleased with the program and hopes to see other voucher programs adopted.

"At some point, at failing schools, vouchers ought to be an option," Mr. Johnson said. "The only true accountability measure is to allow students to leave."

When fully implemented, he expects to see 5 percent of eligible students on scholarship, he said.

The Georgia Department of Education approved three other area private schools to participate in the program.

Westminster Schools of Augusta accepted two students, and Episcopal Day School didn't accept any. A message left for C.H. Terrell Academy seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (7) Add comment
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patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 09/25/07 - 03:25 am
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Mainstreaming special needs

Mainstreaming special needs students was and is the wrong way to educate and is needlessly hard on everyone. These scholarships help not only the special needs children, but the mainstream students as well by freeing the school to move a speed compatible with the students needs.

bone
23
Points
bone 09/25/07 - 04:02 am
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i couldn't agree more, pt.

i couldn't agree more, pt.

WorriedAboutOurFuture
16
Points
WorriedAboutOurFuture 09/25/07 - 06:33 am
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You guys just don't know how

You guys just don't know how much this program means to people just like yours truly. I've seen one of my own completely transformed by getting out of public school special ed, even though it was only with resource teachers in a regular class setting. Public schools are largely terrible places for vulnerable kids, no matter how great the teachers and staff are. It's the other kids who are such savages, and if you throw in a few teachers who couldn't care less about following anyone's IEP, you have all the ingredients for misery just waiting for your child every morning of the week. Eric Johnson was a great person when I knew him 25 years ago, and apparently he still is, and doing it where it counts.

Jennifer G
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Jennifer G 09/26/07 - 12:15 pm
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I am the person that was

I am the person that was interviewed for this story. I do have to disagree to a certain extent with Patricia Thomas. My daughter spent almost 3 full years in this restrictive program and lost many of the building blocks that children should learn early on. Now she is in fifth grade and I am spending every day "un-doing" what was done to help her understand the correct way to study and the correct way to find answers in books. The focus was mainly on behavior, not only hers but the other children as well, and very little on education. Mainstreaming special needs children depends solely on their medical condition. Some are not capable of the pressures that come with regular school but for those who can, they deserve the chance to have it. They should not be placed in special ed programs because main stream teachers do not want to deal with them and subsequently they lose out because they are all lumped together and are not taught accordingly because there are too many different kinds of needs in one room. CONTINUED.......

Jennifer G
0
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Jennifer G 09/26/07 - 12:20 pm
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....CONTINUED..... I do not

....CONTINUED..... I do not fault the special needs teachers because they do the best they can with what is given to them but I applaud the opportunities for my daughter to have a better education in a surrounding that better meets her needs. One good solution would be to fund public schools better so they can handle these children more accurately and meet their individual needs. I was told this was the "ONLY" place my daughter could go 3 years ago. To my objection, I had no alternative. Now, I do! Hope Christain School has been wonderful and accepted her with open arms and have worked with me to adjust things and make her successful. To the other schools that have applied or are thinging of applying..... dont do it unless you are equipped to handle the needs of these very special children!

WorriedAboutOurFuture
16
Points
WorriedAboutOurFuture 09/26/07 - 03:00 pm
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One note on this: any school

One note on this: any school can apply to be part of this voucher program, and the schools get absolute control over who gets accepted and what is taught. The state just foots the bill. It's a wonderful arrangement if you child has special needs of any kind. You just need a currrent IEP and a record of their having been in public school somewhere in Georgia teh previous school year. The options in Augusta are few, but if this program is a success, schools like Hope Christian are really going to grow. Those are some genuinely good, nice people running things over there.

ndeedy
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ndeedy 09/26/07 - 04:58 pm
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I am curious to know how many

I am curious to know how many $$ the state is paying toward each of these individual students. My understanding is that it's dependent on the level of LD each student has. In any case, I suspect that the state is saving significantly and has the potential to save a lot more in the future. The Govt. has to reduce it's appetite for control of everything, it can't do it all!! at least not well....common sense!!

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