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New voucher effort serves special-needs students

By Catherine Candisky
Wednesday January 25, 2012 

Ohio is about to launch its fourth tax-funded education-voucher program, this one for students with special needs. 

The application process is expected to begin in early February for the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship, named after the former state representative from Delaware who pushed for the program. The vouchers — up to $20,000 a year — will be available for the 2012-13 school year. 

Supporters say the program will give students with disabilities access to services tailored to meet their needs. 

Fati Fuchs, a Gahanna mother of three children, two of whom have special needs, expects to be among the first to apply. She said the aid would help provide speech therapy and other help for her 12-year-old son, Christopher, who has Down syndrome. 

Fuchs said she knows from experience that additional services can help children reach their fullest potential. Her daughter receives a state voucher under a similar program for autistic children. 

“She went from a non-verbal 3-year-old to a 10-year-old attending Catholic school without an attendant. We are delighted to have the same opportunity for Christopher,” Fuchs said. 

“You can’t give up on these children.” 

Special-needs vouchers will be available to students ages 3 to 21 who have been identified by their public-school district as having a disability. The aid, which comes from the school district in which the student lives, can be used to pay for private-school tuition, therapy and other special services. 

Enrollment will be capped at about 11,750, or no more than 5 percent of the roughly 235,000 disabled students in Ohio. 

The state Department of Education will be accepting applications for the 2012-13 school year, but an online enrollment process is being tested, and it is unclear when it will be ready, said Patrick Gallaway, spokesman for the agency. 

Awards will be based on needs outlined in an Individualized Education Program from the student’s school district. The money can be used to support students at their existing school or another one. 

Supporters gathered at the Statehouse on Monday to draw attention to the newest voucher program and outline their plan to push for further expansions of such assistance. 

Topping their agenda is a statewide tuition-voucher program for low-income families, not just those in poor-performing schools, said Jason Warner, legislative director for School Choice Ohio, a Columbus-based group that advocates for vouchers and charter schools. 

A Republican-proposed bill in the Ohio House to create such a program is being reworked, however, after running into opposition from public-school officials who complained that tuition vouchers in some cases would exceed the amount of aid the districts received from the state, cutting into their locally generated revenue. 

Read this and other articles at the Columbus Dispatch

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