Paying for Special Ed in Ohio

Making the decision to enroll your child in a special needs school is an important one that requires exploring and evaluating all of your options. Traditional schools aren’t always equipped to offer the individualized attention, specially designed curriculum, highly structured schedules, behavior management, sensory-appropriate settings and other services needed for children diagnosed with autismADD/ADHD and other special learning needs. The school you choose for your child should be the one you feel will best help him or her reach goals that are beyond expectations. The cost of that school should not be an influencing factor or a barrier to helping your child grow and thrive. 


Unfortunately, many parents assume that enrolling their child in a special education school is not something they can afford. Perhaps the myth lies in the fact that most of these schools are either private or independent. Unlike public schools that receive funding through the state or federal government, private and independent schools rely on tuition, charitable donations and grants to survive. The distinctions between private and independent schools are subtle and vary based on the way they are legally structured, governed and funded. What’s important for parents to know is that different scholarships exist to ease the tuition burden. In many cases, private or independent special needs schools are more affordable than most parents realize.

In Ohio, there are three main scholarships that parents of children with special needs should know about: 1) the Autism Scholarship Program; 2) the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program; and 3) the EdChoice Scholarship Program. The Autism and Jon Peterson programs provide scholarships to eligible students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place with their school district of residence. All three scholarship programs are renewable each year, provided the student meets specific requirements.

The Autism Scholarship Program (ASP) gives parents of children with autism the choice to send their child to a special education program, other than the one operated by their school district of residence, to receive their education and the services outlined in the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). According to the Ohio Department of Education, any student who has been identified by their district as a child with autism and for whom the district has created an IEP qualifies for the Autism Scholarship Program. A child is eligible to participate in the program beginning at age three. The first step for applying is to select a participating Autism Scholarship provider (school) to implement the child’s IEP. A list of registered providers is available here. Applications can be submitted by the provider through the Ohio Department of Education’s Autism Scholarship Program page. Parents can apply for this scholarship year-round; however, if a parent applies during the 4th quarter (April, May, June), service will not be approved to start until the new program year which begins July 1st. The maximum scholarship amount is $27,000 per school year. 

The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program (JPSN) provides scholarships to students who have an IEP from their school district of residence. The amount of each scholarship is based on the category of disability identified on the student’s Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and will not exceed $27,000 per school year according to the Ohio Department of Education. The passage of House Bill 49 eliminated application deadlines for the JPSN Scholarship Program so parents may apply for the scholarship year-round. Parents must first register with a participating Jon Peterson Scholarship provider. The provider (school) will have the required application form and can assist parents through the scholarship application process. The completed application is submitted electronically by the provider on behalf of the student. For additional information, visit the Ohio Department of Education’s JPSN Scholarship Program page

The EdChoice Scholarship Program (EdChoice) provides students from underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools. It also provides low income students who are entering kindergarten through fourth grade with the same opportunity. To find out whether your student is eligible for the program, visit the EdChoice Eligibility website page or email edchoice@education.ohio.gov with your eligibility questions. Once you determine that your child is eligible for the program, the next step is find a participating private school (the provider) and apply for enrollment. Students must first be accepted for enrollment at the participating private school before applying for the scholarship. The private school will have you complete a scholarship request form and will assist with the application process. Income verification and proof of residency will be required. The private school will submit the application electronically on the student’s behalf. EdChoice scholarship applications are typically processed from February 1 through April 30. Ohio law limits the number of scholarships awarded to 60,000 statewide. If the number of applications exceeds 60,000, priority is given first to renewing students, and then to new applicants with family income levels at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. After that, a lottery determines the awards.

In addition to these Ohio scholarship programs, private or independent special education schools may offer their own form of financial assistance to families who need it. Financial assistance from these schools is usually made possible through the generosity of donors and school fundraisers. It’s wise to do your research and find out what type of funding is available for your child’s tuition, but it’s also recommended that you talk to the admissions office at your school of choice. The admissions office should not only be able to answer any questions you may have about paying for your child’s education, but they can also assist you with the process. Many special education schools make it their policy to provide support to students regardless of the family’s ability to pay tuition. Hopefully this article was not only helpful, but reassuring to parents and legal guardians whose children deserve the very best education at a school that is the right fit for their family.
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