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Teachers Say Voucher Plan for Autistic Students Far Less Than Current Dollars

February 12, 2009

Richmond - Virginia educators are criticizing a proposed voucher plan for autistic students that, if passed, would reduce the state's contribution to the education of these special-needs students. Members of the Virginia Education Association (VEA) argue any proposed cut to education funding should only be a temporary measure during the current economic crisis. Lawmakers hold a floor debate today on education funding as they consider ways to meet Virginia's estimated $3.2-billion budget shortfall.

Robley Jones, director of government relations for the VEA, says teachers understand cuts are necessary, but they oppose the proposed $4,000 school voucher plan for parents of autistic students. He argues the amount is far less than what public schools currently pay to private institutions for educating autistic children.

"The misleading aspect to the bill is that, if a child's autism is so severe the public school can't provide the services, then the public school is obligated to pay the full tuition."

Jones adds that one school for autistic children in Richmond costs $50,000 a year, leaving parents to pay for whatever costs the voucer wouldn't cover.

"The tuition of more than 50 of the students there is paid in-full by the public school system. To ask a parent to take a $4,000 voucher and then say the state is free of any obligation to that child, is actually doing a disservice to that parent."

The VEA claims the proposed cuts to education funding for all students are the largest ever in recent memory. The union argues education cuts should be temporary in order to preserve Virginia's long-term educational standards, and opposes the House's proposal to make all of the education cuts permanent. A similar level of cuts made by the Senate would not last beyond the recession. Virginia is the 10th-wealthiest state in the nation, though 37th in state support for schools.

Aries Keck, Public News Service - VA