The Oklahoma State Supreme Court recently did all Oklahomans a huge favor by ruling that state-funded private school scholarships for students with disabilities are constitutional.
The ruling ends a five-year legal battle contesting the constitutionality of the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships, that were named after Governor Brad Henry’s daughter. The scholarship program is anticipating record applications for the 2015-16 academic year. The state has already received 486 scholarship applications. By contrast, for the 2011-12 year, 156 students received scholarships.
As the Tulsa World reported, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program provides state-funded scholarships to be used at private schools by students with disabilities for whom an individualized education program has been developed at their previous public school.
Categories of disabilities include autism, deaf-blindness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment including blindness.
The number one school recipient was Town and County School in Tulsa. It “currently has 96 of its 149 first through 12th graders receiving scholarships.”
Last year, its 86 scholarship recipients received $646,000 in state funds to help subsidize regular tuition which runs around $12,000 annually.
Several years ago, a Tulsa Public Schools teacher wrote a letter to the editor detailing the plight of her young son who each morning was practically dragged from the car to the school.
The TPS teacher later found the Town and Country program and enrolled her son who had developmental problems. The mother reports that within weeks, her son blossomed and would race from the car to his new school.
The lesson learned is not all programs for the disabled work – regardless of the desire to make them so. Town and Country School is recognized as a leader. All parents need access to such programs regardless if they can pay. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship bridges the financial gap and is good news for all Oklahomans.
State Representative Jason Nelson was the House author of the legislation that created the scholarships in 2010. On learning of the court’s decision he remarked, “I’m relieved and excited for the students and families who now have certainty about the program.” Gov. Mary Fallin added, “This program saves money for the public school system, while benefiting children with special needs by allowing them to select the educational options that best suits them. This is a victory for students with disabilities across our state and for their families.”
Continuing the good news was the discovery of $43.8 million in the 1017 fund, a dedicated source of funding for education. These funds should eliminate the need to reduce school funding by $19 million which was reported in December.
During these tough financial times, Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman proposes consolidating the state’s 100 dependent school districts with independent districts for administrative purposes.
Independent districts have accredited high schools and dependent do not.
This move is a must for cash-strapped Oklahoma taxpayers.