House Bill 329 (Special Needs Opportunity ACT ) is a bad bill. Taking funding for special education students from public schools and giving it to parents to use as they will, in private schools with an education saving account, is not a good idea. I speak from experience.
Our son had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) from 3rd grade through college. His preschool teachers at the UM LAB school (Learning and Belonging) noticed he had some issues they could not address (private preschool) . We got a referral to the public preschool for kids with special needs. There, he was able to receive speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
He went to his preschool in the morning at UM LAB school and got on a little school bus to the Jefferson Preschool (transportation provided by the school district) in the afternoon. We considered enrolling him at St. Joseph’s, but they told us transportation would have to be provided to the public school for services, so why would we pay tuition to a private school when he gets the services he needs at public school?
His team of teachers from Lewis & Clark elementary to Washington Middle School to Hellgate High School worked so hard to help him succeed and we as parents were included every step of the way. I am by far not a special education expert, and wouldn’t know where to begin, so to think that giving parents the funds to use as they wish would be a good thing is unwise.
Our son was undiagnosed on the autism spectrum until he was in third grade. He received assistance under the speech therapy umbrella until he was diagnosed and his dad and I were grateful. We didn’t know what autism was then, and we were honestly scared for our son.
There is a reason it is called a spectrum. Our son is very high functioning, but was sensitive to noises and would flap his hands when he was excited. I went to his 6th grade class to talk to them about his noise sensitivities because kids would be cruel and purposefully cause him stress and bully him. Granted, this was 20 years ago, and we have learned much more about autism, but the teachers and paraeducators he had along the way, prepared him for success and he is a 2019 UM graduate.
I am to this day, grateful for his team of teachers along the way who were dedicated to his success and worked tirelessly with him and with his dad and I to assure his success. There may be new programs available and resources, but the teachers in the public schools are trained to work with their students and quite frankly, the loss of funds to the public schools and special education departments would be devastating, especially if the student needed to come back to the public school and lost a year or two of progress because of being out of the public school system.
I hope the Senate will show greater wisdom when considering this bill and for the sake of our students, vote no on this bill. Please call your senator today at 406-444-4800, or follow the legislature and this bill and leg.mt.gov.