Sunday, March 2, 2008

Shifting the burden—Will Charlie Shields help families this year?

I was reading an article about tuition assistance for Veterans. Rep. Charlie Shields was talking adamantly about the burden falling back to the students or the University, and that the state should take a more active role in shouldering that burden.

It’s contentious, of course—everyone wants to assist veterans in college, because we owe them honor for their service, but a good-intentioned program could have unintended consequences if the burden was shifted back to students some other way.

It struck me that I haven’t seen him come out vocally for the education of special needs children in the same way. Rep. Shields has an opportunity to support HB 1886 which would help families of special needs students (another group of students Missourians feel an especially intense responsibility for) pay for the cost of private tuition when they are unable to succeed in a tradition public school setting. This bill provides a tax credit for charitable donations up to 80% to a scholarship fund for special needs students. In many cases, students with learning disabilities simply need a period of education specific to their difficulty which they may not find in their district’s public school, and are eventually able to catch up to classmates and join mainstream public education.

Not offering another option for these families means that children will be left behind their classmates and kept at arms length from the chance to move past a disability and succeed.

Rep. Shields from St. Joseph has a record of speaking out for children and students, from early childhood education to college, and helping to widen options for anyone who can’t afford it. What about out special needs students? This is one step the state can take for learning disabled, developmentally disabled and Autistic children across the state that helps them get the services they need without leaving a family stranded and strapped financially.

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