Autism scholarship program hits 1,000-student milestone

Chad W. Aldis

More than 1,000 preschool and K-12 students with Autism are now using an Ohio state-sponsored scholarship program that provides an educational option for parents dissatisfied with the services their child is receiving in a traditional public school.

The Autism Scholarship Program-worth up to $20,000 per student per year-was created by the Ohio General Assembly in 2003. It allows parents to enroll their child with Autism in private-education programs focusing on the social and academic needs of the students, particularly critical, early intervention therapies.

The Autism Scholarship has made a huge difference for Lori Walter's 11-year-old daughter, Chenedi. "Honestly, I don't know where she would be without this scholarship," said Walter, of Elyria. "Because of the scholarship, we have seen a 90- percent turnaround in her behaviors, without medication. For the first time, we believe that she will eventually be able to live on her own and we couldn't be happier."

Rep. Jon Peterson (R-Delaware), who sponsored the legislation creating the scholarships, said this 1,000-scholarship milestone (see chart below) confirms the importance of alternative-education programs. Peterson is also sponsoring legislation expanding the scholarship option to all students with learning disabilities or other special needs. The Senate version of the bill, S.B. 57, has been recommended by the House Education Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full House. But the bill is controversial. Gov. Strickland has promised to veto it in its current form, although supporters are urging a change of heart and an evaluation of the prospective program.

Growth of Ohio Autism Scholarship (2004 to 2008)

The scholarship's continued growth comes at a time when the governor is traveling the state to hear feedback from Ohioans in his "Conversations on Education" meetings. One of the governor's primary talking points has been the individualization of education. He might consider what this scholarship program has achieved and seriously consider whether the Autism Scholarship and proposed Special Needs Scholarship may offer the personalization and innovation necessary to be an integral part of what Ohio education needs to succeed in the 21st century.

There is no limit on the number of students with Autism who can participate in the program. A list of participating private providers is available here.

 By Chad W. Aldis, School Choice Ohio