Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program
Click here for ODE-OEC Information on the Autism Scholarship Program
Over the years, ASO has fought hard for the rights of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to obtain a free and appropriate public education and to pressure schools to accept their mandates under IDEA. ASO has partnered with families, professionals and educators to develop curriculums that helped all of these groups work closely together and to improve the atmosphere to one of cooperation. ASO has been at the forefront for these changes.
ASO has and will continue to advocate with public schools to get the resources they need to provide appropriate services for students with ASD. While public schools services are continually improving and many children are thriving in the public school setting, ASO also supports having choices available for parents to pursue when the public school setting is unwilling or unable to meet the needs for a child. The Autism Scholarship program enables many families to have a choice.
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What is the Autism Scholarship?
Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program is a program of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). The program allows ODE to pay a scholarship to the parents of a qualified child with autism. Through the scholarship, parents have a choice of seeking services for their child with a registered private provider, rather than the child's resident school district to receive the services outlined in the child's individualized education program (IEP). Passed as a pilot as part of the 2003 Budget bill, the program became permanent law as part of HB699, the Capital Bill, passed in late 2006.
The amount of the Autism Scholarship is capped at $20,000 and to be eligible a student must be identified with autism, enrolled in their public district of residence, have a current and agreed upon IEP, and have no administrative or judicial mediations or proceedings pending regarding the IEP. For complete information about Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program click HERE. The Autism Scholarship Program (ASP) has helped many families that choose to leave their public school system to obtain very specialized services through a registered private provider in accordance with their wishes. Many children have benefited by that decision and overwhelmingly parents are satisfied with the services obtained through the Autism Scholarship program. The numbers of those enrolled in the ASP continue to grow. Clearly, the program has impressed an important segment of ASO’s constituent base.
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Statistics on the Autism Scholarship Program
In the 2007-2008 School year, over 900 students with autism used the ASP, based on claims submitted to ODE-OEC. Approximately half of those students were preschoolers. There are currently over 200 registered private providers. Of those, 120 are concentrated in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties (Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati areas). There are Private Providers in 33 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Of those, 14 counties have only one registered private provider. For a complete listing of ASP Registered Private Providers, Click HERE.
What is ASO’s Position on the Scholarship?
The ASO is currently neutral on the Autism Scholarship Program. Families of older individuals with
autism fought hard to get their loved ones included in public schools with typical peers and see the scholarship as a return to secluded settings for students with autism. Families of younger students with autism who have been included in public school but may have not had good experiences or received appropriate services see the scholarship as an opportunity to get better and more appropriate services from private providers. And those families that have limited access to providers other than public school worry that the scholarship diverts resources from the only educational opportunity for their student with autism. The Autism Society of Ohio does support choices for families for education services and will continue to work to assure that all available
choices provide quality services. Despite not having a stance on ASP, families still look to ASO for guidance about the program.
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What ASO supports about the Autism Scholarship:
* The feedback received about the ASP from families has largely been positive including the manner with which the Department of Education Office for Exceptional Children has managed it.
* ASP allows families to access effective models to educate children beyond the traditional classroom, such as ABA or EIBI. The ASP enables families to have a choice of tailored programs outside of the public school setting for specialized services.
* The ASP provides funding for families to seek private services that otherwise would not be able to afford it.
* The ASP provides funding for preschoolers, who especially have difficulty in securing funding despite the proven fact that timing is critical for these children to get early intervention.
* For some public school districts, the ASP provides an incentive to improve the special education services for children with autism. For example, in the first year of the ASP, one public district lost a relatively high number of 15 students, indicating that the parents were not happy with the services that they offered. The district convened a
task force to reevaluate their work, improving their educational services for all students with disabilities.
* The ASP is easy to access for children who meet the eligibility requirements.
* Private providers may not have as many problems with bullying.
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Concerns that ASO has about the Autism Scholarship:
* There are certain rural areas of the state that have no private providers – although this geographic disparity predates the ASP, it determines which families can access and utilize the ASP.
* There are limited providers for older school age children, such as middle school and high school.
* ASO may not be able to provide advice on the quality of the services of the private providers. The same can be said for the public schools as they have clearly struggled to deliver consistently appropriate services throughout the state.
* Transportation is not provided in the Autism Scholarship unless it is in the IEP, which comes out of the $20,000 cap. This prevents some families from being able to take advantage of the program.
* Students utilizing the scholarship relinquish their right to FAPE – free appropriate public education. Parents are responsible for ensuring that their child is getting an appropriate education.
* There is no process for resolving disputes between parents and private providers.
* There is no due process in private sector.
* Private providers can refuse to serve a student with ASD.
* Many private providers offer segregated settings.
* Because the scholarship is capped at $20k, if a provider charges more than $20k, poorer families may not be able to make up cost difference between scholarship and private tuition and therefore are unable to access the program.
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Outstanding Questions related to the Autism Scholarship:
* Which public school programs provide appropriate educational programs for students with ASD? Which do not?
* Will public schools have to step up their services to compete with private providers?
* Will the ASP discourage the training of educators in public schools on the unique needs of individuals with ASD? Or will the ASP encourage more training of educators in public schools to retain their students and prevent the ASD children from seeking private providers?
* Will the ASP help to produce autism expertise through the increase in private providers?
* How can parents get information on which private providers provide effective and appropriate educational programs?
* Are families prepared to pull their child out of the public school district and give up their “Free Appropriate Public Education”?
* Will we gain or lose important statistical information on how Ohio is doing in its education of children with ASD?
* How can we provide more and/or better services for students in rural and underserved areas of the state?
* ASO is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Ohio Autism Task Force including preschoolers with disabilities having the opportunity to receive per pupil funding. Will having only preschoolers with autism who choose the ASP hinder this effort in any way?
ASO supports the idea that families should have an option to choose the ASP if they wish. ASO supports the success stories that have been shared by many who have used the program along with the success stories shared by persons who have used public schools.
ASO will continue to follow the progress of the ASP and ASO will continue to listen to the base of support as ASO will continue to consider this important issue.
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ASO is interested in your Input.
ASO continues to meet with legislators, departmental administrators and the governor’s office to advocate for the interests for person with autism and their families on a variety of issues, including education for students with autism and the ASP. To that end, ASO is interested in your input and feedback.
The following are a list of questions provided to get your thoughts on different aspects of the ASP: Do you use the ASP for your student with autism? If yes, why did you choose the scholarship vs. public schools? If no, why not? What age is/was your child when using the ASP? Do you feel your public school has provided appropriate education programs for your student? If not, why not (please share your story)? How should the State of Ohio interpret the fact that the Autism Scholarship Program may soon have an enrollment of nearly 500 school age (K-12) students and 500 preschool students? If that number grows significantly, how, if at all, will this change impact students with autism who are enrolled in mainstream public school environments? Has the ASP affected creating more tolerant and appropriate mainstream public school environments? What should Ohio’s strategy be to meet the educational and developmental needs of children with ASD? As the interest and enrollment in the ASP continues to grow, are there suggestions that ASO can recommend that could improve the program? What should the public policy position of ASO be regarding this program? Why? Please respond to as many of these questions (or all of them) as you wish.
YOUR OPINIONS AND STORIES ARE IMPORTANT TO US! Please send them to us at askASO@autismohio.org and put Autism Scholarship Program in the subject line. We will post the results on this page in the coming months and use these stories and opinions aswe advocate on behalf of persons with autism and their families in Ohio.
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For additional information about the Scholarship, you can access the following documents and web sites:
School Choice Ohio Autism Scholarship Brochure Click HERE
Special Education Vouchers: Four State Approaches, Project Forum at National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDE), April 2007 Click HERE
Formative Evaluation of Ohio's Autism Scholarship Program Click HERE
LEGISLATIVE OFFICE OF EDUCATION OVERSIGHT, Columbus, Ohio, May 2005 Click HERE
Policy Matters Report, 2008 Click HERE
Accountability and School Choice, Buckeye Institute, May 5, 2008 Click HERE
Civic Report 52: The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence From Florida's McKay Scholarship Program, Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, April 2008 Click HERE
Ohio Autism Scholarship Yahoo Group Click HERE