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Opinion: Legislation to make special needs scholarships more available needs support
Students of the former Ava White Academy wear T-shirts with the school's new name: Academy of Innovation.

My 11-year-old daughter is exactly the type of student Georgia leaders had in mind when they enacted the Special Needs Scholarship back in 2007. The scholarship allows qualifying students to apply the state portion of their education funding toward private school tuition if their local public school isn’t the right fit.

That describes my daughter’s situation perfectly, but a web of bureaucracy has kept her from participating in this state program. That needs to change.

No one could seriously argue that my daughter doesn’t have special needs. She has sensory and auditory processing disorders, as well as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia and anxiety.

We know much better today that children with these conditions and many others can attain academic success with the right environment and accommodations. Public schools have come a long way in providing the resources that these children need, and the vast majority of children with special needs will find what they need there. 

For a while, my daughter did OK in our public school. Because of that, I never pursued an Individualized Education Plan, which maps out the special education instruction, support and services she would need to progress and thrive. We instead created a plan for students who don’t meet the criteria for “special education” but still require some accommodation. This approach didn’t work. It wasn’t tailored to her specific needs. 

As I fought to get her the help, I ran into bureaucratic roadblocks. I asked for a meeting to get an IEP and it took forever. I paid out of pocket to have her evaluated by a professional only to be told after the fact that the school had to evaluate her. COVID led to more delays. 

I couldn’t keep waiting. My child was falling further behind each day. 

I found a private school option: the Academy of Innovation in Gainesville, which adopts curriculum to a child’s needs and doesn’t punish them for being behind. 

“This is a like a family!” she said on her first day. Now she comes home saying school was some version of “the best day ever!” 

This wouldn’t be possible without private scholarship offered through the school. My daughter wouldn’t qualify for the Special Needs Scholarship because she doesn’t have an IEP.

The General Assembly is considering legislation that would reform the law to make it easier for children like mine to qualify for these scholarship funds. It would expand eligibility to all children with special needs. 

It would also enable students in a public special needs preschool and students with special needs who were unable to attend public school in person because of COVID to qualify. Finally, it would enable students with special needs who were adopted from foster care to become immediately eligible. 

SB 47 has passed the state Senate with Sen. Butch Miller’s support. Now we need our House members to get this bill over the finish line. It will provide can provide a lifeline of hope.

Ellie Anglin


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