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Claims fall far short of $10M Georgia special education fund

June 25, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — With just days before a deadline to claim expenses, state officials say parents of children with special education needs have claimed only a fraction of the $10.1 million in federal coronavirus relief money that Gov. Brian Kemp set aside to reimburse them for pandemic-related expenses including technology and tutoring.

Wednesday is the deadline to apply, already extended from May. People can apply online.

Zelphine Smith-Dixon, director of special education services and supports for the Georgia Department of Education, said Friday that the department has received about 2,400 applications for reimbursement for a total of about 2,700 students. Some parents have more than than one child who is a special education student.

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Parents are limited to $500 in reimbursements for expenses incurred on behalf of each student, but most are getting far less. Smith-Dixon said that of 800 applications that have been processed, the department has approved $348,000 in reimbursement. She said some of those parents for whom spending has been approved should see money deposited in their bank accounts next week.

Although the department still must review another 1,500 applications, it’s on pace to approve only a little more than $1 million in spending.

“We won’t use all the funding this particular round,” Smith-Dixon said.

To qualify, a student must have had an individualized education plan active with a public school at some point between March of 2020 and now, including a charter school. The money can be used to pay for computers and other technology, private tutoring or a learning coach, therapy, or other expenses supporting special education needs.

Monique Allen of Dublin, for example, said her family has been approved to get $500 back for her 9-year-old son who was in first grade last spring when the pandemic hit and Laurens County schools closed. She said her family increased its use of behavioral therapy to aid with her son’s autism, paying out of pocket because the increased therapy exceeded what her family’s insurance would pay for.

Allen said she heard about the program from another parent, but said many other parents don’t know about it. She said the money made her feel like someone recognized that parents like her had a rough year.

“It’s nice,” Allen said. “I feel like we’ve kind of been left out to dry.”

Smith-Dixon said Kemp, a Republican, will have to decide what to do with the remainder of the money.

“What I do know is it’s still the heart of the governor on behalf of the program to use the money for what it is intended to do, which is to help families of children with special needs during this unique time of COVID,” Smith-Dixon said.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.