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Special education ‘choice’ program accepting enrollments


Special education ‘choice’ program accepting enrollments

Jun 02, 2023 | 1:30 pm ET
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Special education ‘choice’ program accepting enrollments
Lawmakers this session sought to re-cast a special education funding mechanism into a universal "school choice" program. (Photo from the U.S. Department of Education Flickr)

A program funding disabled child access to private schools and other specialized resources is open for enrollment through September 1, State Treasurer Daniel Elliott’s office announced Friday.

“As school choice parents, my family knows firsthand the importance of being able [to] choose what’s best for your child’s educational experience,” Elliott said in a news release. “Our Indiana Education Scholarship Account gives parents with children who have their own ways of learning the ability to find the tools to best fit their needs.”

Lawmakers created the special education-only ESA program in 2021, but sought to expand it to all Hoosier students this session in a bid to create a universal “school choice” program.

Instead, lawmakers did it by expanding income eligibility for the state’s Choice Scholarships program and eliminating the eight elibility-determining pathways currently in place. That program allows students to get state-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

To be eligible for an ESA, school-aged Hoosiers must have an active service plan, Individualized Education Program plan or Choice Special Education Plan (CSEP). They must also have an income below 400% of the Federal Free or Reduced School Meals limit, according to the Department of Education.

Accounts set up by the state treasurer’s office provide each qualifying student with thousands of dollars for private school tuition and various other educational services from providers outside of their school district.

Other expenses can include transportation, examinations and assessments, occupational therapy, paraprofessional or education aides, training programs and more.

“Ella is complex. Finally, we have a solution … ESA has opened up doors we never thought possible for her,” Elkhart County mother Erica Hunt said in the news release. Elliot’s office said the child was one of an estimated 180,000 Hoosier students “affected by special needs.”

Education groups have fiercely criticized the initiative as lacking oversight, financial “accountability” and educational standards.

“My team and I believe that the future of education is not forcing a child to fit into the system but giving parents the instruments to build around the individual needs of the child,” Elliot said. “Our ESA program is guided by that principle, and we believe in mission.”