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Legislature helps Montana’s special needs students rebound

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I am honored to have worked with Governor Gianforte to introduce the Students with Special Needs Equal Opportunity Act (House Bill 329) this legislative session. House Bill 329 gives parents flexibility to support the unique educational needs of their child without increasing state spending. The House overwhelmingly supported the bill this week and it is now headed to the Senate. It is also supported by Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen. 

House Bill 329 allows parents with eligible students under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to access a reimbursement account within the Montana Office of Public Instruction for eligible educational expenses. The OPI account will be generated with funds by parents choosing to take the state share of their child’s education funding and moving it from their local school district to the state account. Parents can then use those funds for a variety of public or private education services that fit the needs of their children.

The OPI will ensure that the funds have appropriate oversight and accountability. Examples of eligible expenditures could include textbooks, online materials, tutoring fees, tuition, therapy, assessments, materials, programming and more. 

As the mother of a child with special needs, I understand the struggles parents have faced in the last year trying to ensure that their children are progressing academically without in-person learning. The challenges of learning loss through COVID-19 have been even greater for our state’s at-risk students.

Education has been one of the most impacted sectors by this pandemic. House Bill 329 will provide a boost to students now and into the future. Parents know the needs of their children better than anyone. They should be able to use their child’s state share of education funding to put them in the program that will give them the greatest opportunity to succeed.

Sue Vinton (R-Lockwood) is the Majority Leader of the Montana House of Representatives and Sponsor of HB 329.

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