Our Special Education Advocate, Mary Jo O’Neill, recently spoke to a great group of parents from Lev Miriam Bikur Cholim of Cleveland to answer some of their questions about the special education process. There were a lot of questions about how the EdChoice scholarship works with special education, so I thought it was a topic worth writing about.
Can you get the Jon Peterson or Autism Scholarship in addition to the EdChoice Scholarship? The quick answer is NO, double dipping is not allowed. You can apply for both, but you can only accept one. Further, if you do decide to take the EdChoice scholarship and go to a private school, the IDEA law and its protections do NOT apply. This means the public school does not have to provide supplemental services or specially designed instruction to meet your child’s disability-related needs.
If you’re not sure what EdChoice is, it’s an Ohio education scholarship program to help students who live in a district where the school is regularly underperforming. If the student attends or is assigned to attend a public school building that’s been rated in Academic Emergency or Watch for two out of the past three years OR is ranked in the lowest 10% of public school buildings for the same duration, they can apply for the EdChoice scholarship. The scholarship provides funds to pay tuition at a private school of their liking. EdChoice pays $4,650 for students in grades K-8 and $6,000 for students in grades 9-12. If the private school costs more than the scholarship provides, the parents will have to pay the difference unless they qualify for needs-based funding. Note that Cleveland Municipal School District students are NOT eligible for the EdChoice scholarship since there is a separate Cleveland Scholarship Program developed to meet their needs specifically. There are some other exceptions and qualifiers, but that’s the gist.
Another way to qualify for EdChoice is through the Expansion Scholarship. A student in grades K-6 who doesn’t live in CMSD’s district will qualify for the EdChoice Expansion Scholarship if their family’s income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Now, if you live in one of these underperforming districts, but your child has a disability, you’ll have to make a choice as to which scholarship you want to access. The Autism Scholarship provides approximately $27,000 of funding. The Jon Peterson Scholarship amounts do vary by the child’s category of eligibility, but even the lowest dollar amount of Jon Peterson (ex: $7,598 for Speech or Language Impairment) is more than the $6,000 available under the EdChoice for high school students. Dollar for dollar, the special education scholarships are more valuable than the EdChoice Scholarships.
Every child’s circumstances are different, but in the majority of cases, it will be more beneficial financially for a student with a disability to access the Jon Peterson or Autism Scholarships, rather than the EdChoice Scholarship. The EdChoice scholarship has its purpose and benefit, but the purpose is not centered on special education. If your child has special needs and you decide to take the EdChoice Scholarship, understand that the private school does not have the same obligations as a public school in terms of meeting your child’s disability-related needs (i.e. accommodations, specially designed instruction, SLP/OT/PT, etc.). It’s very important to have these conversations early on with your private school of choice, to see what, if anything, they are willing to provide.