This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) that would have established a pilot program to provide scholarships to military children (children of those enlisted in the U.S. military) with special education needs. The pilot program would have been open to 250 children, and provided a scholarship of up to $7,500 per child. The amendment allowed recipients to use these scholarships at public, private, or charter schools. This amendment was offered to legislation authorizing annual funding for Defense Department programs.
Hunter urged support for his amendment: “The most important assets we have in our United States military are our personnel, the men and women that we move around. They get moved around, they usually don't have a choice of where they move from base to base and camp to camp, and this amendment specifically covers those ladies and men who protect us that have special needs children…What this [amendment] would do would start a pilot program for up to 250 kids to allow them to choose whatever school fits their needs best, whether it's a private school, a charter school or public school, and to see if that helps alleviate some of the pain that the families face as they travel from base to base, as they go overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, so we can take care of their kids here at home.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) opposed the amendment: “…This is not what is in the best interests of the children of our servicemembers. To give them a $7,500 voucher to go get special needs education is a license for them not to get the education they need. As everyone in this body knows, the costs of special needs children can sometimes be as much as $100,000 a year to our public schools. There are some children out there who have some very, very strong needs. Fortunately, because of the IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], the public schools in this country are 100 percent obligated to meet that need. Talk to any school superintendent who has to deal with this, it's an enormous cost, but it's also an enormous benefit to these children. They have to meet those needs, and if they don't, it is precisely the parent who has the law on his or her side to say the public school must meet that requirement. If you give them a $7,500 voucher and send them off to whatever private school is out there, they are not subject to those same requirements. They do not have to meet that same dollar value. What you are doing is you are undermining the education for these special needs children in a way that could be very detrimental to our families.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 203-213. Voting “yea” were 199 Republicans and 4 Democrats. 178 Democrats and 35 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have established a pilot program to provide scholarships (which could have been used at public, private, or charter schools) to military children with special education needs.