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by: Rep.

Bill would also provide for children with unique challenges

AUSTIN—Representatives Ron Simmons, Jason Isaac, and Jason Villalba today announced legislation to authorize Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for special needs and at-risk students, as well as children with unique challenges.

“My wife and I know firsthand the challenges parents of a special needs child face when looking for the educational environment that will best serve their child’s needs,” Simmons said. “We are the proud parents of a young adult son who himself was in a special needs program.”

Under HB 1335, the parent or guardian of a special needs child or of a student with unique challenges would receive 90 percent of what the state spends each year per student in the form of an ESA. The funds would be distributed to the parent or guardian every quarter either on a debit card. The funds could only be spent on private school tuition and on a narrow list of eligible expenses such as that for tutors, therapists, specialists, and assistive technologies.

In addition to special needs or at-risk students, HB 1335 would provide ESAs for a young person with unique challenges, such as a student who:
 Is in foster care.
 Meets the federal definition as “homeless.”
 Is a victim of bullying.

“This legislation gives families the ability to craft a tailor-made program for their child,” Simmons said. “That is what makes this legislation and this type of ESA program so innovative – it would give parents the ability to manage funds that pay for their child’s education, allowing them to create an individualized program based on their child’s needs.”
Several lawmakers joined Simmons for today’s announcement to express support for the proposal.

“Parents and students deserve choices in education,” said Representative Villalba, “This proposal puts power where it belongs – in the hands of parents, caregivers and students who are best equipped to understand their own educational needs.”

Representative Isaac added, "I support this effort to give parents and students more control over their education and the power to create their own success."

According to a new report published by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI) and the Goldwater Institute, similar ESA systems are in place in other states including Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida. The report found that in these states, “education savings accounts are helping children with unique needs and from different family backgrounds find a quality education.”

Simmons said he wants to provide families greater educational options for their children. “In the case of our own experience, my wife and I found a private school that could truly help our son, and we had the means to send him there. But that’s not the case for many Texas families with special needs children. Many parents don’t have a choice.

“There is no greater responsibility we have than to help take care of those who don’t have the same opportunities,” Simmons said. “That’s why I have authored House Bill 1335—to give parents of special needs and at-risk students the ability to get the education they deserve.”

According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas is home to nearly a half-million students with special needs such as autism, speech delays or vision or hearing impairment although recent investigative media reports indicate this may underestimate the number of Texas children with special needs.

Andy Forbes

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