Senate Sub for HB 21 on School Finance Includes ESAs for Students With Disabilities
Chairman Larry Taylor laid out a committee substitute for HB 21 that includes the establishment of an education savings account (ESA) program for children with disabilities who are receiving services under IDEA or Section 504. Eligible students would be those currently enrolled in public schools or those enrolled for the entire preceding school year. Funding would be 90 percent of M&O, with the remaining 5 percent going to the student's current school district in the first year the student uses the ESA, and the other 5 percent funding the new dyslexia allotment included in the bill. After the first year, the full 10 percent would fund the dyslexia allotment.
The substitute bill would also amend the section of HB 21 related to hardship grants for districts losing ASATR funds so that only districts with the highest need would receive the funding (those spending less than 110 percent of the state average per student). Taylor explained that the criteria would also take tax effort into account, with districts that tax less receiving less. There was some discussion among committee members about further amending the bill to eliminate hardship funding for districts with tax rates lower than $1.
Committee members asked Taylor about the fiscal note for the bill and if there is money in the budget for it. Taylor said that a fiscal note on the substitute was not yet available and that there would be discussion with the finance committee on funding, and that is is an important bill but it would be less than the original $1.8 billion fiscal note.
Sen. Royce West asked Taylor if he intended to accept amendments to the substitute later in the process that could expand the ESA provision. Taylor said he would like to add foster children if possible, but that Sen. West had his word that he would not accept amendments to expand it beyond that. "This is about special needs," he said.
In response to testimony expressing concern that adding an ESA program, even if limited to special needs students, would be "letting the camel's nose under the tent" or opening the door to future expansion of programs that divert taxpayer dollars to private schools, Taylor said that this provision was not about "blowing up public education."