Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Students in special education programs would be eligible for as much as $20,000 to find schools that fit their needs under a pilot voucher program proposed Wednesday by House Republicans.
Speaker Jon Husted, a suburban Dayton Republican, held a discussion with colleagues, special education teachers, students and their parents on Wednesday to “help us better understand the value of this and carry it back to our colleagues.”
The House added the plan to the state’s two-year, $52.3 billion budget and begins meetings with the Senate on Thursday to resolve differences in their spending plans. The pilot program would cap participation at 3 percent of those in special education programs — about 8,000 students.
The budget bill must signed by Gov. Ted Strickland in time for the July 1 start of the new budget year.
Strickland is opposed to the statewide voucher program for all public school students in districts in academic difficulty, but he didn’t publicly complain when the House removed his effort to block its expansion. He does support the pilot program in Cleveland because he believes it’s working. Strickland has not yet taken a position on the special education proposal, spokesman Keith Dailey said.
“It’s certainly going to be a subject of ongoing discussion. The governor is concerned about any expansion of vouchers,” Dailey said.
The program is intended for children with behavioral problems, limited language skills, visual or hearing impairments or poor communications skills. It is similar to a scholarship program that offers school choice to children with autism that’s been in place since 2003 and serves about 500 pupils.
Aisha Saunders of Columbus said public schools had targeted her son Nathan as a troublemaker, even though he was not. Nathan Saunders, a 19-year-old graduate of Columbus South High School, said he would attend Central State University with the goal of becoming a child psychologist.
State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Cuyahoga Falls Republican, called special education “the next battleground in school choice.”
Maria Sentelik, executive director of Ohio Valley Voices, a school in Cincinnati where deaf children can learn to speak, said her school was a good example of a nonpublic school helping children with special needs.
“They need experts who understand what their needs are,” Sentelik said.