Opinion Columns & Blogs

Parent shares what Ga. lawmakers can do to improve education for special-needs kids

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My husband and I have seven adopted children, four with special needs. Needless to say, our home is a busy place. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Two of our children struggle with vision challenges and have undergone extensive therapy, and two others have fetal alcohol syndrome, which has caused damage to the frontal lobe of their brains.

We love all our children dearly. We chose to adopt two sets of three siblings because we wanted to keep the brothers and sisters together—to give them the chance to experience life side by side in a stable, loving home.

But as for so many parents with children with special needs, and especially adoptive parents, we’ve faced significant struggles finding the right educational mix for them

Public school was a nightmare for my kids. To provide a less stressful environment, I chose to leave my career of 14 years as a public school teacher to home-school.

This choice is a step in the right direction for our family, but we desperately need more support. Georgia lawmakers have a unique opportunity this year to extend a vital lifeline to families like mine — those who’ve not only adopted but chosen kids with special needs.

The reality is that traditional public schools are not a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly for kids with emotional and physical challenges. We need more choices. Thankfully, there are two key ways Georgia lawmakers can empower adoptive families with the help they need this year.

The most significant step comes through Educational Scholarship Accounts. These accounts would enable us to pay for adaptive technology and therapies that we simply can’t afford on our own right now.

Another way that lawmakers can assist families like mine is by updating Georgia’s existing Special Needs Scholarship Program. As it stands, the scholarship (which has an average value of $6,672.14 for each child) allows students who are enrolled in public school for at least one year to transfer to another school (public or private) to better meet their educational needs.

We’re asking lawmakers to remove the one-year requirement and open the scholarship to home school families with adopted children, like our own.

In the end, Educational Scholarship Accounts and special-needs scholarship funds would give us the support we need to provide the best education possible for our kids. Without it, our kids won’t benefit from the therapies they urgently need.

My kids are like a puzzle: If you don’t fit the pieces together, it’s quite literally life or death. And we only have a limited time frame to figure out the puzzle because they’ll soon be grown and out in the world.

In a similar way, Georgia lawmakers have a limited time frame to achieve these types of reforms for our state’s children. We can’t afford to wait years. Every day that passes lessens the chances my children will become all they can be.

Katie Gonzalez is an mother of seven adopted children from Duluth. She taught for 14 years in the Gwinnett County public school system.