The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship was enacted in 2011 and launched in 2012. It provides Ohio students with disabilities school vouchers for private tuition and other educational services. The Ohio Department of Education sets school voucher limits for different types of disabilities, so funding and eligibility vary. Learn more about that, regulations, and more here.
One of 15 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs
6,904 participating students (2015–16)
14 percent of students eligible statewide
263 participating service providers (2014–15)
Average voucher value: $9,794 (2014–15)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 87 percent
Ohio parents of children with special needs enrolled in public schools are able to receive vouchers to pay for private school tuition and additional services at private therapists and other service providers.
Vouchers are worth the lesser of fees or tuition charged by the alternative public or private school, the amount of state aid otherwise provided to the public school district, or $27,000. The amount is reduced proportionately if the child is not enrolled in the alternative or private school for the entire school year. The Ohio Department of Education sets maximum funding amounts for different types of disabilities. Parents of students with a category 1 disability (speech and language only) may use the voucher only to pay for services included in their child’s IEP and cannot use the voucher to pay for tuition at a private school. Vouchers can be used at public providers (i.e., school districts) if the district chooses to accept voucher students.
Children with disabilities must be between ages five and 21, and have at least an initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from the public school district. Vouchers will not be awarded if the IEP is still being developed or is in litigation. Parents must apply for eligibility. Their application must certify that they have received the following information from the alternative or private school: methods of instruction to be used with the child and qualifications of the teachers and instructors who will provide services. The number of vouchers available is capped at 5 percent of the students with special needs statewide.
The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program offers generous funding levels to parents, up to $27,000 per child annually. However, the eligibility is capped at only 5 percent of the students statewide, a number that is arbitrarily too low and likely to be met in 2016–17. Likewise, private school regulations are burdensome as participating schools must employ credentialed teachers approved by the state board as well as its entire education program approved by the state department of education. Additionally, the students must take the state test and report them to the Ohio Department of Education, unless that student is excused by federal law or by an IEP. By removing some of the onerous regulations on schools, those institutions would be more willing to help serve more students with special needs.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.