Democratic lawmakers are trying to pass a measure that would create a state office dedicated to helping families of special needs children get education services. The proposal is an alternative to a special needs voucher bill.
The proposed Office of Educational Special Needs Counsel would provide parents with legal advice to get their children the evaluations and services that are supposed to be available to them. Representative David Baria of Bay Saint Louis drafted the measure that would create the office.
"An office of special needs counsel would have the affect of increasing compliance with federal and state law," says Baria. "So the when families go into these meetings with the school district with their doctors and lawyers that they have representation on their side of the table."
Baria says his plan is an alternative to a bill that would give parents of special needs children a seven-thousand dollar voucher if they take their children out of public school and use the money for other educational options. The voucher plan has seen widespread support from Republican lawmakers, but Randy Smith of Jackson, the father of a special needs student, says the vouchers wouldn't be enough to help his daughter.
"Once we got legal representation the district came, they worked with us we identified her disabilities and we got her the appropriate help," says If we had paid as a family for everything that's specified in this voucher bill and given up our rights to a free and appropriate education it would have cost us out of pocket $40,000 a year."
Both plans have the same basic goal of increasing the graduation rate of special-needs students in the state, which currently sits at 23 percent.