Monday, Governor Bill 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."
Beacon Center of Tennessee
The Beacon Center of Tennessee empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.
About the Bill:
This bill creates an individualized education program for eligible students, whereby funds will be provided for the student to be educated at a nonpublic school. An "eligible student" is a resident of this state who:
(1) Has an individualized education program (IEP) or an accommodation issued under section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in effect at the time the request for participation in the program is received by the department; and
(2) Meets at least one of the following requirements:
(A) Was previously enrolled in a Tennessee public school during the two semesters immediately preceding the semester in which the student receives an individualized education account (IEA) under this bill;
(B) Is attending a Tennessee public school for the first time; or
(C) Received an individualized education account (IEA) pursuant to this bill in the previous school year.
A parent of an eligible student will qualify to participate in the program if the parent signs an agreement promising:
(1) To provide an education for the qualified student in at least the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science; and
(2) Not to enroll the parent's participating student in a public school and to release the LEA in which the student resides and is zoned to attend from all obligations to educate the student. Participation in the program will have the same effect as a parental refusal to consent to the receipt of services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Parents must agree to use funds deposited into a student's individual education account (IEA) for education related expenses (such as tuition at a participating school and educational therapies); this bill details the allowable expenditures. Funds in an IEA may be used to purchase no more than $50.00 in annual consumable education supplies necessary for daily classroom activities. Funds in an IEA cannot be used to purchase computer hardware or other technological devices.
Students who enroll in the program will remain eligible until the participating student returns to a public school, graduates from high school or reaches 22 years of age by August 15 for the next school year, whichever occurs first. Any funds remaining in a student's IEA upon graduation from high school may be used to attend or take courses from an eligible postsecondary institution, with qualifying expenses subject to the applicable conditions stipulated in this bill. Upon the participating student's graduation from a postsecondary institution or after any period of four consecutive years after high school graduation in which the student is not enrolled in an eligible postsecondary institution, the participating student's IEA will be closed and any remaining funds will be returned to the state treasurer to be placed in the BEP account.
This bill prohibits a school, private tutor, eligible postsecondary institution or other educational provider that serves a participating student from refunding, rebating, or sharing funds from an IEA with a parent or participating student in any manner. The funds in an IEA may only be used for educational purposes. Participating schools, postsecondary institutions and education providers that enroll participating students must provide parents with a receipt for all qualifying expenses at the school or institution.
The maximum annual amount to which an eligible student is entitled under this bill will be equal to the amount representing the per pupil state and local funds generated and required through the basic education program (BEP) for the LEA in which the student resides and is zoned to attend plus the special education funds from the BEP that the participating student would otherwise be entitled to under the student's particular IEP or 504 plan. The department may deduct an amount up to a limit of 3 percent from appropriations used to fund IEAs to cover the costs of overseeing the funds and administering the program.
This bill specifies that participating nonpublic schools and education providers will be given the maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of their students without governmental control. No participating nonpublic school and education provider will be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policies or curriculum in order to accept participating students.