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LNH Scholarship

August 7, 2012

I’ve been avoiding writing this post because I hadn’t watched the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs video on the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship. I’ll comment on the video itself later (as well as those responsible for it). First, I want to characterize the discussion I have heard from politicians, school leaders, newspapers, and on Twitter. It seems that in discussing the scholarships, there are four general positions:

  1. Support for the LNH Scholarship because it is a break from the monopoly of public schools;
  2. Support for the LNH Scholarship because it gives parents of the most vulnerable students options they wouldn’t otherwise have;
  3. Opposition to the LNH Scholarship because public and private schools are not held to the same standards; and
  4. Opposition to the LNH Scholarship because public dollars should never be used for religious purposes.

The first and fourth positions are extremes. The second and third are more in the middle. I would characterize my own views as largely in the third slot, but with some of the fourth thrown in as well.

At about the 2:30 mark in the video, a quote from Temple Grandin appears: “A treatment method or an educational method that will work for one child may not work for another child. The one common denominator for all of the young children is that early intervention does work.” This is an ideal to which all who work with not only special needs students, but all students, should aspire. Rep. Jason Nelson (who seems to be a mix of one and two, but mostly two) points out the high number of students who are identified on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) in schools.

Federal law already requires schools to do everything possible for special needs students. The well-meaning parents appearing in the video who only want what’s best for their children are right to pursue whatever opportunities exist for their children. The problems I have with the videos come from the unsubstantiated claims. One is that schools do not use the money received from the state and federal government for special education students. The opposite is true, in fact, and school districts have to give a strict accounting for how those funds are spent. Another is the emphasis on bullying. Any teacher who went to college and studied for four years to work with special needs students is also going to be sickened at those students being pushed around.

Rep. Nelson, who is a tireless advocate for the LNH Scholarship, is also willing to engage opponents in reasonable, polite discussion. While I don’t agree with his position on a number of issues, I appreciate the Twitter conversations and the fact that he responded to the comment I left on his blog. He wants parents to have more choices. While I’m not against that, he also equates parental choice to accountability. Public schools have test after test that our legislature has mandated in the name of accountability. No Child Left Behind (and its waiver) requires even more. Is this onslaught of testing best for any student – especially special education students? Not at all. But the tests keep coming, all so we can have A-F report cards and continue evolving into what Florida’s education system is – and that’s not a good thing.

As for OCPA, their position on public education has been clear for years. They want it gone. Look here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here … They’re also the only think tank I know of that wants to see fewer college students.

Not all supporters of the LNH Scholarship are in category one above. Similarly, not all of the opponents are in category three. Some – such as the Tulsa area districts famously referred to as “dirtbags” by a former SDE official oppose the scholarships to the extent that they feel it is worth litigating. To me, it’s really not necessary, on a number of levels. Most private schools (and some charters) don’t even want special needs students. Very few parents have opted to use the scholarships. On principle, I suppose I agree with the litigation. I just don’t know that I would have opted for that myself.

I guess the bottom line is that the LNH Scholarship is probably overhyped by political supporters and opponents as either the greatest or worst solution to problems that may be isolated in the first place. I want what’s best for special needs students too, and so do the thousands of public school teachers who work in one of the most thankless areas of our profession.

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