Ohio Parents Call for Special-Needs Scholarship Program

Published March 1, 2008

Showing public support for school choice, several Ohio parents testified about the need for a special-needs scholarship program during a House Education Committee hearing on the Special Education Scholarship Pilot Program bill currently under consideration in the state legislature.

Expensive Help

Lori Skeldon, a mother of two from Hamilton, said her son Tyler had great trouble learning to read in the first through third grades at his public school.

“He basically could not read before we enrolled him at Springer in fourth grade,” said Skeldon. The Springer School and Center is a private school in Cincinnati specializing in students who learn differently. After four years there, Tyler now “excels in the classroom.”

But that achievement hasn’t come cheap.

“We have cashed out college and retirement savings to pay Springer tuition,” Skeldon said at the October 30 hearing. She knows other families with children like Tyler who can’t afford a school like Springer.

Aisha Saunders of Columbus testified about her son Nathan, whose learning challenges qualified him to attend Marburn Academy, a private school in the city, before entering kindergarten. The Saunders could not afford to continue sending him there after that year. She said she wished they could have, because the Marburn staff “equipped [them] with information about how he learns, [and taught them] how to more effectively parent, given our son’s challenges.”

Saunders said though she was able to advocate for her son in the public schools, not all parents can do so. Having an alternative to the local public school would be great for parents, she said.

‘Not Always Heard’

Another parent, Joni Schottenstein from Columbus, spoke about her 15-year-old daughter, who has Down Syndrome and hearing impairments.

“It’s not easy to navigate through the system” when seeking aid for one’s child, Schottenstein said. “As parents of a child with special needs, our voices are not always heard.” The Columbus school district gave her daughter the services they had available, she said, instead of the services she needed.

Michelle Francis of the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) also testified at the hearing, saying her group opposed the Special Education Scholarship, as did the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Education Association, and Ohio Federation of Teachers.

The current system, she said, already “meets the individual needs of students,” and the bill could “undermine services for some children.”

Michael Coulter