Senate defeats Rob Bell bill to allow school choice for parents of disabled kids

state-capitol2In a near-party-line vote, the Senate defeated Del. Rob Bell’s (R – Charlottesville) HB 2238, a bill to allow parents of some students with disabilities to spend taxpayer funds on alternative forms of education.

The bill would have permitted those monies to be used in a wide variety of ways — including tuition payments to private, religious schools — while effectively removing many of the protections and options that public schools afford to their students. Even supporters conceded that the bill was deeply flawed; Sen. Richard Stuart (R – Stafford) declared that “the bill does have some problems, and it needs to be fixed.”

The final vote was 18-18, with one senator not voting due to a potential conflict of interest. Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam cast the deciding vote to defeat the bill.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Senator Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) said, “The bottom line is that public funds are for public education… K-12 education – there is a constitutional guarantee that we must fund that. But the flip side is we don’t have any obligation to fund those people that choose to educate outside of our public K-12 system. So again, I respect the intent of this bill, I have great sympathy for that intent, but I do believe that this bill is unconstitutional.”

Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said, “There are many educators who are very concerned that the protections we have worked so hard to provide for our students, who are special needs students, will not be provided by this bill. Case in point – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act actually does not apply to private schools. So a parent may think he or she is getting a better deal by going to a private school but the federal regulations that, for example, would require a student be educated in the least restrictive environment don’t apply to these private schools. And that’s a big deal if you’re looking for a quality education.”

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