The inability of school districts to appropriately educate children with autism and provide the necessary services is certainly not just a New York problem. Take Ohio, for example, where the number of children with autism is reported to have spiked from 1,046 in 1998 to 13,441 by December 2009. The interesting thing about Ohio is the legislation that was passed to address this issue. Realizing that suing school districts for appropriate services can mean a long, draining, and expensive legal fight, Ohio established what is known as the Ohio Autism Scholarship. This allows parents to withdraw their children from public schools and buy private services with taxpayer money.
A number of issues are unclear with respect to this program: (1) If the child is not enrolled in public school, does that mean that the child would be enrolled in a private school program or homeschooled; (2) If the child is in a private school program, does the allotted money go toward the private school program or toward outside services; (3) If a child's program is expensive (and some autism programs can approach $100,000/per year, sometimes more), can the money be used toward part of the tuition balance and, if so, who pays for the rest of the money owed. NOTE: One of the conditions for receiving this scholarship grant is that the parent agrees to waive its right to an impartial hearing, which raises a red flag as to how the balance of the money owed is going to be covered. Normally, a parent could file a claim against the school district for reimbursement of the tuition. If the parent is waiving his/her right to do so, how is the balance being paid? In addition, the program has several definite flaws which are still being addressed. These have to do with financial oversight of the program, quality of the services, and communication with the local public school districts regarding the child's progress (all of which have caused problems with the administration of the program thus far). So the program still needs to be tweaked, but it is an interesting, novel approach to address a pervasive problem.