The state's autism voucher program provides up to $20,000 a year for special instruction for an autistic child. A recent Policy Matters Ohio study (see here), among other things, found fault with the program because a third of the private providers in the study do not offer traditional inclusion-based instruction for special needs children. The study's findings sparked the following reaction from Chad L. Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio.
A study released, with much media coverage, by Policy Matters Ohio about the state's Autism Scholarship program came up short on addressing its full impact and value. School Choice Ohio has been paying close attention to the Autism Scholarship program, and we know that it provides new options to families and students with autism in cases when their individual learning needs are not being met by traditional district providers and schools.
Of course, individual student learning is the real issue here, the reason schools exist in the first place. And that is the key question for evaluating the Autism Scholarship: are the individual learning needs of students being met more effectively by alternative service providers than they would be under their traditional district choices?
Children with autism oftentimes need focused, specialized, personal intervention before they can function effectively in a mainstream classroom. Students with autism often need early and intensive preschool interventions for maximum academic progress. Does the autism scholarship help meet these student needs? Parents seem to think so. Every study of the Autism Scholarship, including the Policy Matters Ohio one, finds 100 percent parental satisfaction with the program. The program also is growing steadily and now serves more than 750 students statewide.
While the study raises valid concerns about the lack of alternative providers in rural areas and the need to ensure that parents across the economic spectrum know about the Autism Scholarship program, it is unfortunate that the study uses these concerns to dismiss the program entirely.
For Ohio's most vulnerable students, the Autism Scholarship is a step in the right direction to provide appropriate educational options for children and families unhappy with what they've currently got. Rather than offer fewer choices to students with autism, Ohio should work to make this opportunity available to all children with disabilities.