NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill that overhauls how severely disabled children are educated in Tennessee. The Individualized Education Act will turn over roughly $6,600 in education funds to parents to help their children.
Supporters have hailed it as empowering parents whose children don’t do well in special education programs at public school. Critics say it hands money over to parents with few safeguards.
Traditional vouchers give families whose children attend poor-performing public schools a way to pay for private schools. This law gives parents much more freedom to determine how to spend the money.
Under the law, parents will be able to spend the $6,600 on private school tuition or approved therapies.
Haslam signed the bill on Monday.
Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville was the primary sponsor in the Senate.
Note: Press releases below.
News release from StudentsFirst
NASHVILLE, TN- After securing passage last month in the General Assembly, Governor Bill Haslam today signed his name to HB 138/SB 27, the Individualized Education Act, officially making Tennessee the twenty-second state in the nation to enact a private school choice law. While the new law differs from the Opportunity Scholarships bill that was delayed this session, it still gives parents of children with special needs the ability to exercise meaningful choice in their child’s education through individualized education accounts. Using these accounts, parents can select a customized assortment of specialized education options, ranging from private schools and textbooks to tutoring and therapy, that better meets their child’s unique learning needs.
Upon hearing news of the Governor’s signature, StudentsFirst Tennessee Policy Director Daniel Zavala made the following remarks:
“Families across Tennessee have cause to celebrate today as our state joins twenty-one others in giving thousands of parents the final say in determining the best educational avenues for their child. With the Governor’s signature, roughly eighteen thousands students with special needs from every corner of our state will soon have access to a diverse array of specialized education options that may better meet their unique learning needs.”
“No one is better suited to understand a child’s distinct learning needs than a parent, and no one can offer better direction in choosing the right educational options for them. We extend our thanks to Governor Haslam for giving these families a much-needed pathway to a specialized education for their child and to the seventy-nine state lawmakers from both parties who voted in favor of this bill.”
News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
Today, Governor Haslam signed the Individualized Education Act that will benefit thousands of children with special needs. The bill will provide education savings accounts to families of special needs children, allowing them to spend the money we already allocate to their education on private school tuition, tutoring, therapy, and other educational services.
“It is a significant achievement that Tennessee has passed its first ever school choice law. The passage of this bill will have a major positive impact on children with special needs across the state,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen.
“This new program will offer children with special needs a unique academic experience that the current one size fits all system does not provide,” Owen stated. “Every child deserves a quality education, and we thank our partners and the legislators who voted in favor of education savings accounts for standing with us.”