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Florida’s PLSA has joined Arizona’s ESA: is Nebraska next?

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The Florida legislature recognized students and parents have a vested interest in student learning outcomes and achievement by granting them education dollars. Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSA), included in SB 850, became effective 6/20/14. Students receive 90% of what the state would have spent on their education. Florida joins Arizona (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts ESA), in providing funds directly to parents of specified groups of students. Students with disabilities are eligible for the funding in both states.

A look at how this law could benefit Nebraska families:
Lincoln Public School (LPS) parents sought help from an expert at John Hopkins research facility in Baltimore on behalf of their autistic son. A successful education plan was developed and administered at the facility.

Upon the family’s return to Lincoln, LPS refused to adopt some parts of the plan which had been beneficial for their child. The parents were forced to remove their child from LPS and enroll him in a private school which implemented the plan. Their child thrived at the private school under the plan, but the expense was too much for their budget.

The parents sued LPS for not adopting the critical part of their autistic son’s education plan. United States District Judge Camp ruled in favor of LPS. Camp determined LPS listened to the parents concerns and evidence. The judge further stated that under federal law the school district’s plan does not need to guarantee a student will make any progress at all, nor is it required to follow the parent’s preferences. (Margaret Reist, Lincoln Journal Star 11/18/11)

In sum, a law which guarantees an occupied special education seat: education not required and parent preferences dismissed.
Providing education dollars directly to parents ensures their preferences for their child’s education will be the determining factor in delivery of learning options.

The programs could be expanded to include a wider range of students in need of learning (or safety) options.
In 2005, an LPS kindergartner was sexually assaulted during the school day in a school bathroom by a 27 year old stranger. This man had walked into the front entrance of the school and been approached by several staff members prior to the incident.

The victim’s mother sued LPS. In 2009, District Judge Merritt found LPS took reasonable steps to protect against acts of violence in schools and dismissed the case. The victim’s mother won on appeal, though the district did not admit any liability and felt they were not responsible. (Margaret Reist, LJS 7/27/11) Most parents would not leave their 5 year old in the care of an organization or individual who did not take responsibility to protect their child from sexual assault in the bathroom.

When the school district and courts align against the best interest of the student, it is time to take a long step back and look at how our education system has evolved. In both instances, the autistic child and the kindergartner, the costs involved to provide and protect would have been minimal. Simply put, service delivery in the child’s best interest was not the priority.

In addition to disabled children and those whose parents demand a safe environment to be eligible for education dollars, add parents of students in low performing schools. Children not being taught basic skills suffer trapped in those classrooms.

The National Council on Teacher Quality Teacher Prep Review 2014 revealed that teacher preparation remains ineffective. Students, parents and teachers are locked in a system backed by the courts that has lost its way. Decades of reform programs have failed to improve student learning outcomes.

Students and parents, for whom the system is not working, need an escape hatch. The Nebraska legislature should follow the lead of Arizona and Florida. Provide parents the resources to make education decisions in the best interest of their child: learning opportunities which allow for that child to reach his/her greatest potential. We all benefit.

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