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Dismantling Oklahoma Scholarships for Students with Special Needs - AFC Condemns Ruling

  • Published: 2012-04-01 : Author: American Federation for Children
  • Synopsis: Tulsa District Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale rules against Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities Program.

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AFC Condemns Ruling Dismantling Oklahoma Scholarships for Students with Special Needs - Tulsa judge strikes down scholarship program; future of 160 special needs students in jeopardy.

Special Needs - Children with special needs may have mild learning disabilities or profound cognitive impairment; food allergies or terminal illness; developmental delays that catch up quickly or remain entrenched; occasional panic attacks or serious psychiatric problems. The designation is useful for getting needed services, setting appropriate goals, and gaining understanding for a child and stressed family.

The American Federation for Children - the nation's voice for school choice - decried a ruling this week by a Tulsa district judge that struck down a special needs voucher program, throwing into disarray the educational futures of the more than 150 children served by the program.

Tulsa District Judge Rebecca B. Nightingale on Tuesday ruled against the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities Program, which was established in 2010 to give children with special needs access the school of their parents' choice.

The program - one of 10 private school choice programs in the country for children with special needs - was strongly opposed by special interests and reform opponents, despite having passed the legislature with bipartisan support in 2010 and being signed into law by Democratic Governor Brad Henry.

While the ruling was praised by two school districts responsible for the lawsuit, the fate of the 160 families enrolled in the program is now uncertain.

Lawyers representing six families sued by the two school districts plan to appeal Judge Nightingale's ruling. The case may ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.

The case was brought forth after the two school districts counter-sued parents of children who sought scholarships under the program.

The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students was named in honor of Gov. Henry's daughter, who died as an infant. After enrolling just 10 students last year, 160 were enrolled for the 2011-12 school year.

Private school choice programs for children with special needs serve nearly 30,000 students nationwide. Oklahoma is also home to a second publicly funded private school choice program, the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships, a scholarship tax credit program created in 2011.


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