The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship was enacted in 2011 and launched in 2012. It provides school vouchers to Ohio students with certain special needs to cover private school 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 on this page.
One of 18 private school choice programs exclusively for students with special needs
5,621 participating students (2017–18)
13 percent of students eligible statewide
377 participating service providers (2017–18)
Average voucher value: $9,913 (2017–18)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 85 percent
Ohio parents of children with special needs enrolled in public schools may 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 and 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 state sets maximum funding amounts for different types of special needs. 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 special needs must be between ages 5 and 21 and have at least an initial Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from their public school district. The state will not award vouchers if the IEP is still being developed or is in litigation. Parents’ applications 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. Eligible students may apply year-round depending on whether funding is available.
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 eligible students statewide, a number that is arbitrarily too low and likely to be met sometime soon. 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 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.
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