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GOP WANTS school vouchers for special needs

'Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program'

It's hard to challenge a bill aimed at helping children. It's even harder to oppose something purported to help disabled children.

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That's why at first glance a bill entitled "Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program" has winner written all over it.

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But critics say the trouble with the bill — authored by Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah — is that it offers private-school vouchers to parents who are unhappy with how the public schools are educating their special-needs children.

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Republicans know they have to be cagey when they mention the word "vouchers" because it carries controversial connotations. During the campaign season, Lt. Gov.-elect Casey Cagle told CL he wouldn't support what he described as "wholesale vouchers."

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While Johnson's proposal isn't "wholesale," Democrats are calling it a camel-nose-under-the-tent approach. It doesn't endorse student vouchers across the board but gives the state a starting point with special-needs children.

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Johnson said he based the bill on Florida law that has enabled 17,300 students with disabilities to use the scholarships. He said 93 percent of those parents are now satisfied with their children's education, as opposed to 33 percent of the parents whose special-needs children are in public schools.

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However, it will mean a fight in the Senate Education and Youth Committee when the session starts next month.

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"It's not a good idea," says Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. "There are other ways to help special-needs kids. The governor needs to stop cutting funding for special needs and for Medicaid. If they were serious about disabilities, they'd stop cutting money in the budget for them."



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