The Special Education Graduation Conundrum

The Hechinger Report recently published an article discussing the potential of students with disabilities to earn high school diplomas.  The story was particularly interesting to us, because it highlighted that Arkansas has the nation’s highest graduation rate for students with disabilities.  Over 81 percent of students with disabilities in the class of 2015 graduated, compared to the national average reported rate of under 65 percent.

spedgradratesAI4

While this news is exciting (we love to be the best!), we have to wonder: what is the reason for our high graduation rates? Data from the Arkansas Department of Education show that the graduation rate for students with disabilities has been over 80 percent since 2013,  with the 2016 rate reflecting a new high of over 84 percent!

We examine three possible reasons for Arkansas’s high graduation rate for students with disabilities:

  1. The students in Arkansas have less severe disabilities than students in other states.
  2. Schools in Arkansas do a great job at educating students with disabilities.
  3. Students with disabilities in Arkansas can earn a diploma by meeting easier requirements than students in other states.

Do students in Arkansas have less severe disabilities?

Arkansas and Mississippi are close geographically, have about 500,000 students enrolled in the public school system, and a similar the percentage of students enrolled are eligible for free/reduced lunch, which is often used as a proxy for student poverty.

Although student populations are similar, however, the graduation rates for students with disabilities are not. Mississippi has the second lowest graduation rate in the nation, (30.7 percent in 2015-16) for students with disabilities.  Table 1 shows the 2015 special education enrollments by disability for Arkansas and Mississippi.  The low-incidence disabilities, which are generally considered more severe disabilities, are presented in bold.

Table 1. Students in special education by disability, Arkansas and Mississippi.

 

Although Arkansas enrolls a higher percentage of students with intellectual disabilities than Mississippi,  the developmental delay category that Mississippi uses (usually for pre-k) is likely offsetting the intellectual disability rates. Overall, differences between the disabilities identifies for students in Mississippi and Arkansas are slight, providing no plausible explanation for the 50 percentage point difference in graduation rates between the two states. Students in Arkansas do not seem to have less severe disabilities.

Are Arkansas students better prepared?

Arkansas’s high graduation rates for students with disabilities could be a reflection of the the quality education in schools in Arkansas are providing.  The only measure publicly available to us, aside from graduation rates, on how well schools are serving students with disabilities academically is through standardized assessments.  We’ll preface this by noting that no one in the special education community thinks that test scores are great measures for students with disabilities because of the variety of problems students with disabilities run into taking assessments.  Nevertheless, the graduation rate, math proficiency, and English language arts (ELA) proficiency rates for students with disabilities in Arkansas and all students in the state in Table 2, below.

Table 2. Graduation and ACT Aspire proficiency rates in math and ELA, Arkansas, 2016.

Grad_Math_ELA

While there is less than a 3 percentage point difference in graduation rates, there is a 30 and 38 percentage point difference in math and ELA proficiency, respectively.  Although there are large differences in academic performance, Arkansas schools are graduating students with disabilities at almost the same rate as their non-disabled peers.

However, as noted above, test scores are not great measures of the educational experience provided to special education students. Thus, it is certainly possible that part of the explanation for the high graduation rate for special education students in Arkansas is the quality of service provided or the attention paid to special education students in the state. Future studies could begin to test this hypothesis by comparing the special education graduation rates between Arkansas districts with different types of services provided to the students.

Is it easier for students with disabilities in Arkansas to earn a diploma?

Perhaps the high graduation rates for students with disabilities in Arkansas are due to less rigorous high school graduation requirements in Arkansas (compared to other states).  Although Arkansas has Smart Core Course graduation requirements to help prepare students for college and career readiness, students can still graduate by completing the less demanding Core Course requirements if they have parental consent.  The diploma is the same, but the requirements are different.

Similarly, a study of career and technical education in Arkansas found that students with disabilities were substantially over represented in the career concentrations of “manufacturing” and “transportation, distribution, and logistics,” while most underrepresented in “finance,” “health sciences,” and “education and training.”  The differences in academic expectations in these career tracks are clearly different.

Every student in special education has an individual education program (IEP) that should outline their path to graduation.  Some school districts state, “Those students not participating in the Smart Core curriculum will be required to fulfill the Core curriculum or the requirements of their IEP (when applicable) to be eligible for graduation.”  The word “or” is important because it tells us that the IEP can take the place of both the Core and Smart Core Course requirements.  If student IEP goals are used to determine whether a student earns a diploma or not, this could be the reason for Arkansas’s high graduation rates for students with disabilities.

Of course, we have not done a thorough review of the rules in the other 49 states, so there may be similar alternative paths available across the nation. Thus, for now, it is certainly noteworthy that special education students in Arkansas are graduating high school at very high rates.

Now what?

After examining some potential reasons why Arkansas’s graduation rates for students with disabilities may be so high, we are left wondering what the implications are for our students. Policymakers and special education scholars should be examining these results so that we can better decipher whether this is good news or bad news for our state! If the results are good news, policymakers in other states should be visiting Arkansas to gain insight. On the other hand, if we are not holding our special education students up to appropriately high standards, then school leaders in Arkansas need to seek improvement.

Of course, decisions regarding graduation requirements matter a great deal in the real world — there are real repercussions for students who do not earn a diploma.  Moreover, there are consequences for schools, districts, and states. Washington DC is facing an investigation into its graduation practices. Since 2010, all states must use the same calculation for determining the graduation rate, but the meaning of a high school diploma still varies.

Arkansas’s vision is to lead the nation in student-focused education so that every student graduates ready for college, career, and community engagement. We need to promote pathways for students to follow toward future careers and/or college, and have diplomas that match those pathways.  High school graduation is only one measure of success for our students. We should also look at their experience after graduation. Education stakeholders in Arkansas, including students, parents, school leaders, and policymakers need to determine whether those high rates of graduation for students with disabilities equates to high rates of successful graduates.

Special thanks to Sivan Tuchman, PhD for the research and insight for today’s blog!


Choices In Education: Video Competition

As confusion surrounding educational options grows, it's time the public hears more real-life stories from students and parents on how educational choice has made a difference in their lives.

Millions of families have benefited from the power to choose the best learning environment for their child, but there are still more that need access to a wider variety of educational opportunities.

Submissions open mid-October

Tell Your Story:

  • Film a 45-120 second video on one of the following topics:
    • How educational choice made a difference in my life
    • Why I need access to educational choice options

Who is eligible?

  • Students, parents, or alumni of existing choice programs (public school choice, charter, magnet, private school, virtual learning, or homeschool)
  • Students and families who want choice in their state

Judging and Prizes

  • A People's Choice winner will be chosen through public voting. A panel of judges that includes representatives from national organizations representing the full spectrum of educational choice will select the grand prize winners and finalists.
    • 3 Grand Prize Winners- $15,000 cash prize
    • 1 People's Choice Winner- $10,000 cash prize
    • 3 Finalists- $5,000 cash prize

The winners will be announced during National School Choice, Jan. 21-27, 2018.

For more information, email Joe Follick at joe@excelined.org.

 


Succeed Scholarship Program is a Success

Succeed Scholarship Program is a Success

 

(Little Rock, Ark. – September 27, 2017)  The Reform Alliance announces that 93 percent of available Succeed Scholarship Program spaces for the 2017- 2018 school year have been filled in the first month. The Succeed Scholarship Program, passed during the 2015 Legislative Session, allows a public school student with an Individualized Education Program to apply for up to $6,713 in scholarship funds to attend a private school that may be more suited to meet the student’s needs. There is a waiver that private school students can get signed by their resident superintendent to bypass the public school requirement. Over 37 percent of the eligible private schools participated in the first 12 months of the program. This increase allowed more children to have an opportunity to access educational opportunities that best fit their needs.

 

According to Valerie Pruitt, executive director of The Reform Alliance, there are more than 50 children on the waiting list who are not qualified for this specific program because of the Individualized Education Program. “These parents are also looking for educational options and should have freedom to pursue those educational opportunities that are best-suited to their child’s individual learning styles, talents and aspirations. High-quality educational opportunities should be available to all students, regardless of zip code or income.”

 

As the new executive director of The Reform Alliance, Pruitt comes with more than 15 years of experience working with nonprofits.  A long-standing advocate for educational opportunities, she is dedicated to supporting educational freedom for all children in the state of Arkansas.

 

“I have seen firsthand how educational opportunities make a difference in a child’s education. My three children and I are products of traditional public schools. Three of my grandchildren experienced traditional public schools and public charter. One is now attending private school, and three are being homeschooled. Parents should have the right to decide what options are best for their child when it comes to education. I’m excited to be on the frontline working to help raise awareness and helping to expand educational opportunities in the state of Arkansas to all children.”

 

The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting school choice opportunities for all students in the state of Arkansas.


Arkansas embarks on Scholarship Program →

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Arkansas embarks on a new school voucher program for families with children who have special needs.

The program allows parents of children with certain disabilities to use state funding to pay for private education outside of their public school district.  The program essentially gives parents of special-needs children the choice of enrolling them in public schools or in private.

Little Rock's St. Edward Catholic School is one of seven private schools in the state approved to accept students through Arkansas' first voucher system.  Katie Clifford is the executive director for Arkansas' Reform Alliance, the group behind the program.

"They maybe can't afford a private school without a program like this.  They've been looking at different options, and they might like the opportunity that a private school affords their child."

Clifford said the Succeed Scholarship program allows students with special needs to apply for up to $6,600 dollars of state money per year toward tuition and fees at an approved private school.

"This funding is very specific in that it does not come from the public school fund, so we are not taking away from the public schools to fund this program."

Right now, there are 57 families currently working through the application process.

Only a handful of students have actually been enrolled.

Clifford said there are scholarship funds available for 100 Arkansas children with special needs.

 

"Several parents I've talked to just want a smaller learning environment, some of them just want more one-on-one time.  It really varies among the families, but they just want a different kind of educational environment that they think would be a better fit for their child's needs."

To be eligible for the voucher, students must have an individualized education plan, have attended a public school the year before, and be accepted into the private school they wish to attend.

"Accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD.  We also have students apply who have autism or verbal needs or vision needs," said Clifford.

Arkansas is the only state in the country to pass this type of bill without a single dissenting vote.

If your family fits the needs. you can apply online.


Vouchers in Arkansas: Examining the Succeed Scholarship Program

President-elect Donald Trump, an open supporter of school choice, has nominated Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education. Devos was most recently the Chairwoman of the board of directors for the American Federation for Children, a lobbying, political action committee (PAC), and non-profit organization that promotes school choice across the country.  This political atmosphere requires that we think critically about how school choice policies apply to the state of Arkansas.

School Choice in Arkansas

Arkansas already provides for several types of school choice. The most well-known is charter schools, which are public schools that are independently operated but receive federal and state funding and held to all accountability requirements. Currently, Arkansas has 24 open-enrollment charter schools operating 43 campuses.  Another type of school choice that may be less familiar is vouchers. Arkansas has a new program allowing such vouchers for students with disabilities, and today’s policy brief examines the program and what it might mean for Arkansas.

The Succeed Scholarship

The 2016-17 school year is the first year that Arkansas’ students with disabilities could use state education dollars as tuition at authorized private schools. The Succeed Scholarship Program, passed by House Bill 1552, permits public school students with disabilities to transfer to an approved private school of their parent’s choosing with the support of the student’s full foundation funding to cover school tuition and fees. Students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can apply to participating private schools, and, if accepted, receive a voucher worth the state’s foundation funding amount (currently $6,646) or school tuition, whichever is less. Approved private schools are held to academic, fiscal, non-discrimination, and safety standards.

The underlying belief behind private school choice is that parents have their own goals for the education of their students and also have a better understanding of what their student needs than do school officials. In the case of special education students, this is critical because traditional public schools offer similar special education services, and parents may not feel that these services will meet the needs of their student.  Moreover, students who are geographically tied to attend a poor performing traditional school should be provided the means to obtain a high quality education regardless of their family wealth.  These types of choices have always been afforded to wealthy Americans, and private school choice programs afford all parents the same options.

Private school choice programs (i.e. vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, etc.) for students with disabilities are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the southern United States. While most other private school choice programs target students from low-income households, programs like the Succeed Scholarship offer a private school voucher to students based on enrollment in special education.  Special education has had a long history of utilizing private schools to provide appropriate services for students with disabilities.  Through the IEP process, districts can place students in private schools if they are unable to properly support their academic progress.  A voucher, however, takes the district decision-making out of the equation, and it allows parents to place their students in private schools on their own.

Impacts for Arkansas

There are potential cost savings from the Succeed Scholarship Program for the state and district. Students with disabilities receive funding from state, local and federal sources, but the program  only allots state foundation funding for the voucher, leaving more federal and local funding available to all other students who remain in the public school system. Additionally, the current bill funds the Succeed Scholarship outside of the Public School Fund, leaving all state funding that would have gone to these students available.

To some extent, we may see all of these areas as clear reasons why a program like the Succeed Scholarship should exist. An important concern, however, is that families must relinquish their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) while enrolled in the Succeed Scholarship program. While parents can return at any time to the public schools or even transfer to another private school participating in the program, potential negative effects exist from a school that neglecting the special needs of a student with a disability. Another concern is that the voucher amount may not cover the entire cost of tuition at a school that will meet the student’s needs, and poor families would not be able to supplement (“top up”) the voucher. This is particularly true for students with the most severe disabilities, who cost substantially more to educate. Private schools that participate cannot discriminate in their admissions process, but they can use their normal entrance requirements, including testing, interviews, and review of records. Students with academic, social/emotional, and behavioral disabilities, may be at a real disadvantage and be de facto discriminated against, limiting their true school choices.

Special education private school choice programs are often seen as a “foot in the door” for school choice laws. Once some success has been shown to the public, more laws can be passed to expand these programs. The political climate is ripe for such potential expansion, whether these programs are targeted to students from low-income households or available to all students. Eyes are on the current legislative session to see if the issue of private school choice arises once again in Arkansas. It is essential that citizens and legislators alike consider the potential costs and benefits, not just for students today but for generations to come.

In AR LegislatureThe View from the OEP on January 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm


A Historic First →

For the first time, this state's taxpayers, in general, will be coming to the rescue of those families with kids that need special help to make it through school. These new Succeed Scholarships are slated to benefit up to 100 students at nine schools this year.

You name the locale and there are bound to be kids there who require help with their disabilities. Disabilities like dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder, troubles seeing or hearing, you name it. To quote Katie Clifford, executive director of The Reform Alliance, which not only distributes these scholarships but serves as a check on any abuse of the program: "We are working hard to get schools on board and students on board. Because it is such a new program, we are working hard to help people know that it exists and help people know what we can do." Which is why the Reform Alliance has mailed out some 66,000 fliers to Arkansas households offering information and encouragement. No wonder the program sped through the Legislature with not a single vote recorded against it. The benefits are multiple, the problems minimal.

But the aginners we will always have with us, and you can count on any school district's or university's administrators to lead the charge against any new or useful idea. Like an old guard that can be counted on to fight for the status forever quo. But there is no good reason not to provide state-funded vouchers for the families of poor and/or disabled kids. Or just those who could use a little help raising money for tuition. After all, the state has an obligation to serve them, too.

There are times when true leaders, as opposed to the pretend kind, rise above principle. Think of Thomas Jefferson, patron saint of those who believed in the strict construction of this country's remarkable Constitution with its myriad clockwork mechanisms to keep all the usual radicals at bay and serve the general welfare. Given the right context and circumstances, he could proceed with alacrity. As when he was given the opportunity to purchase not just the Port of New Orleans but the whole of the vast Louisiana Territory stretching almost to the British Canada.

And yet the aginners predictably oppose the state's doing right by these kids and their families. Why? For specious reasons that are both unfounded and inhumane. Families would be left out of the voucher program because they might have to pay some of their own ways? (As if a lot of help is not worth it if it's not all the help required.) Yes, tuition at some schools might be more than the $6,646 provided by this program. But $6,646 would be a heck of a down payment for many families. Besides, some private schools are already waiving the balance for these kids. May they all be rewarded.

As usual in "progressive" circles, the demand for an imagined equality trumps all other considerations. Even if these students already have their expenses picked up by the state's taxpayers in the public schools. Progress marches on even though "progressives" may oppose it.

A word, yet again, about the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville, which funds The Reform Alliance. Okay, maybe more than one word:

Thank you--again. The foundation has put its money where its ideas are and has for decades. And children will benefit. If there's a better way to serve your fellow man, it doesn't readily come to mind.

Editorial on 09/07/2016

Print Headline: A historic first


State Aids in Tuition for Private School →

A small but growing number of private elementary and secondary schools in Arkansas are enrolling students whose families will pay tuition with money they will get monthly from the state.

The Succeed Scholarships that make it possible for eligible students to attend qualified private schools are available for up to 100 students this school year.

The state-funded tuition, or voucher, program, which does not set any income limits for participating families, is a first for the state.

To qualify this year for the scholarships -- which are authorized by Act 1178 of 2015 -- students had to attend public schools last school year, unless they are children of families in military service. Additionally, the students must be identified as having a disability and needing special-education services as evidenced by their existing Individual Education Plans.

The private schools must be approved by the Arkansas Department of Education for students to attend with state aid of up to $6,646 a year per student. That is the same amount of money that the state guarantees per public school student this year.

To date, up to 10 schools in cities including Little Rock, Bryant, Texarkana, Fayetteville, Springdale and Fort Smith have qualified, and more are in the pipeline, said Katie Clifford, executive director of The Reform Alliance. That is 10 out of what Clifford said is a total of 191 private schools statewide.

The Reform Alliance is the third-party operator of the scholarship program -- an intermediary between the state Education Department and the scholarship recipient families and schools. Earlier this summer, the alliance mailed about 66,000 fliers to Arkansas households to alert people to the availability of the tuition program, Clifford said.

"We are working hard to get schools on board and students on board. Because it is such a new program, we are working hard to help people know that it exists and help people know what we can do," she said.

To qualify, the schools -- including religiously affiliated parochial schools -- must submit forms to the state specifying the grade levels and services the schools have available for students with disabilities. The schools also must certify that they employ only teachers with bachelor's degrees or higher and that at least one faculty member at a campus holds a current, state-issued license in special education.

The schools also must agree to annually administer a nationally recognized exam as established by the state Board of Education. The Education Board is to vote on a list of acceptable standardized tests at its meeting later this week.

"We've seen all types of learning differences come through," Clifford said about the more than 70 families -- two with more than one eligible child -- who have either enrolled a child or were working toward that as of late last week.

She listed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other categories of learning disabilities in a student as the bases for family interest.

"We have seen dyslexia. We have seen autism. We've talked to a parent whose child has a really strong vision impairment," she said. "It's great that all kinds of students can take advantage of the program."

Richard Abernathy, the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, an organization of public school and school district leaders, said last week that his organization is very concerned about opening the door to state-funded vouchers, or tuition payments, and their potential to diminish support for public schools.

The administrators association opposed the Succeed Scholarship bill sponsored last year by Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, Abernathy said. But because House worked with the association to incorporate certain safeguards, the association did not campaign for the bill's defeat.

The bill passed without a single vote against it in the House and Senate.

"One of the things that helped me was that they passed a similar bill in Oklahoma," Abernathy said. "I called my counterpart over there and asked him about what they were seeing. The impact was very minimal. So that was a reason why we just stepped back."

Still, Abernathy said, a state voucher doesn't mean the private school is free to a student. The voucher may be $6,000 and the tuition $10,000. That $4,000 cost would keep some students from attending -- segregating students by income.

"That's just wrong. Yes, we have major concerns with vouchers," he said.

Clifford said that for some schools the tuition is less than the $6,646 per year -- the student only gets the amount of the tuition in those cases. In a couple of instances, a school has agreed to waive the tuition cost above $6,646 or seek grants to fund the difference for the student.

The state sends the program money to the alliance, which will verify that the students remain enrolled and then distribute the funds to the families to make tuition payments.

Andie Plymale, principal of Union Christian Academy in Fort Smith, said she and her faculty began about six years ago to provide extra support and services to students with learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD so they can be better prepared for entrance into a university or a career.

Union Christian, like some of the other approved schools, draws from the local public school district for services such as speech and occupational therapy for students, but it also has its own faculty that provides services to special-needs students.

Staff members at the Fort Smith school learned of the Succeed Scholarship Program through a newspaper article, which led to the school applying for and receiving state approval, the principal said.

"We are very excited because we have done this for a bit and now people in the community are going to have the opportunity to be able to take advantage of the program we have," Plymale said.

"We do believe everyone is special. Everyone is created for a purpose. We really do enjoy the opportunity to partner with families to help those students grow and become all they can be."

The school has not yet enrolled any Succeed Scholarship students but is working with two families who have indicated interest, Plymale said. In a third case, the student's need for resources exceeded what the school could provide, she said.

At the end of last week, a total of nine schools were listed on the Arkansas Department of Education's website as having been approved to accept Succeed Scholarship students. Besides Union Christian Academy, which can serve kindergarten through 12th grades in the Succeed Scholarship Program, the schools are:

• St. Edward Catholic School in Little Rock, which has services for kindergarten through fourth grade.

• Immaculate Conception School in Fort Smith, which has services for kindergarten through sixth grade.

• Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, with services for first through 12th grades.

• Trinity Catholic Junior High School in Fort Smith, with services for grades seven through nine.

• St. John's Catholic School in Hot Springs, with services for kindergarten through eighth grades.

• Arkansas Christian Academy in Bryant, with services for kindergarten through 12th grade.

• Fayetteville Christian School, with services for kindergarten through 12th grade.

• Trinity Christian School in Texarkana, Ark., with services for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Clifford said Friday afternoon that St. Boniface Catholic School in Fort Smith was just approved. It was not yet on the Education Department's website.

Each of the schools approved to date is accredited by the Arkansas Nonpublic School Accrediting Association. A school can be accredited by an organization other than the Arkansas organization, but the school must go through the extra step of being approved by the Arkansas Board of Education, Clifford said.

Clifford said some schools have been turned down because of the accreditation requirement.

The Reform Alliance, which is funded by the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville, was created in 2015 to help support "the whole gamut" of school choice across the state, Clifford said. That includes traditional public schools, charter schools, virtual schools, home schools, magnet schools and private schools.

"We will support each of those very differently depending upon the issue, " Clifford said about helping families to understand the available choices and navigate through the different requirements and deadlines.

The Reform Alliance's status as the intermediary between the Department of Education and private schools circumvents some of the barriers between the agency and the schools.

"Because of what their bylaws say, it is easier for some of them to work through us rather than the Department of Education," Clifford said about the schools.

Clifford is the second director of The Reform Alliance, which is housed in the Arkansas Press Association building on Victory Street, east of the Arkansas Capitol. Clifford, a onetime Texas teacher and former communications director of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, succeeded Sarah Collins Linam in the job in June.

More information about the Succeed Scholarship Program is available by calling the alliance at (501) 420-4592 or by going to the alliance website: thereformalliance.org.

Detailed information is also available on the Arkansas Department of Education website: arkansased.gov. From the department's home page, the program can be found by clicking on the "S" link under the "Topics A-Z" search system.

A Section on 09/05/2016

Print Headline: State aids in tuition for private schools


State Creates Scholarship Program for Disabled Children

LITTLE ROCK (KATV)- A new scholarship is available for Arkansas children with disabilities. The scholarship was approved in the last legislative session without a single dissenting vote.

"We had a parent in our office this morning that said this has been a long time coming," Katie Clifford, Reform Alliance executive director, said.

According to the CDC, almost 5 million U.S. students have a learning disability, and now Arkansas will provide a complete school of choice to those kids in the state.

"We know all of our children learn differently," Clifford said.

In the 2016 fiscal session, the Legislature unanimously approved $800,000 to fund the Succeed Scholarship Program. The state also chose the Reform Alliance to oversee this program.

"I was so very proud that everybody laid their partisanship aside and they did what's best for the kids." Representative Doug House said.

Rep. House was the author of the bill. He said that this scholarship will allow 100 students with individualized education programs, or IEP's, to be eligible for $6,646 to attend an approved private school this school year.

Clifford, with the Reform Alliance, told KATV that is the same amount the state gives a public school district per student.

Clifford said 67 families and 8 schools have been approved so far.

"They might be better served in a smaller environment, in a close knit environment, whatever it is," Clifford said.

Both Clifford and House said they support public schools, but they want children with everything from dyslexia to autism to have a choice in their classroom environment.

"We make a choice where we live, where we shop, where we buy, and who we hang out with. We believe parents should choose where their child is educated," Clifford said.

"It will save the state money, it will save the school districts money, it will save the parents money," House said.

Both want this to be a secondary option behind a public school, and so to qualify a student must have gone to a public school before they can receive the scholarship.

The Succeed Scholarship Program has a rolling application process.
Source: http://katv.com/news/local/state-creates-scholarship-program-for-disabled-children


Arkansas Offers School Vouchers to children with Special Needs →

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Arkansas embarks on a new school voucher program for families with children who have special needs.

The program allows parents of children with certain disabilities to use state funding to pay for private education outside of their public school district. The program essentially gives parents of special-needs children the choice of enrolling them in public schools or in private.

Little Rock's St. Edward Catholic School is one of seven private schools in the state approved to accept students through Arkansas' first voucher system. Katie Clifford is the executive director for Arkansas' Reform Alliance, the group behind the program.

"They maybe can't afford a private school without a program like this. They've been looking at different options, and they might like the opportunity that a private school affords their child."

Clifford said the Succeed Scholarship program allows students with special needs to apply for up to $6,600 dollars of state money per year toward tuition and fees at an approved private school.

"This funding is very specific in that it does not come from the public school fund, so we are not taking away from the public schools to fund this program."

Right now, there are 57 families currently working through the application process.

Only a handful of students have actually been enrolled.

Clifford said there are scholarship funds available for 100 Arkansas children with special needs.

"Several parents I've talked to just want a smaller learning environment, some of them just want more one-on-one time. It really varies among the families, but they just want a different kind of educational environment that they think would be a better fit for their child's needs."

To be eligible for the voucher, students must have an individualized education plan, have attended a public school the year before, and be accepted into the private school they wish to attend.

"Accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD. We also have students apply who have autism or verbal needs or vision needs," said Clifford.

Arkansas is the only state in the country to pass this type of bill without a single dissenting vote.

If your family fits the needs. you can apply online here.


Succeed Scholarship Starts 2016-2017 School Year →

Arkansas took a huge step forward on school choice during the 2015 legislative session by passing a law that established the Succeed Scholarship program. The Succeed Scholarship is the first school voucher program to be established in the Natural State. This law gives parents of children with special needs the ability to send their children to the school that best meets their unique circumstances. The upcoming 2016-2017 school year will be the first academic year parents will be able to benefit from the program. The program allows children with special needs to receive a scholarship worth up to $6600 to attend a private school. For a student to be accepted into the program, a student must be eligible for special education, must have attended a public school the previous year, and must be accepted to the private school of their choice. In order to accept eligible students, private schools must apply and be approved by the Arkansas Department of Education. Both parents and private schools can apply to the program here. The Arkansas Department of Education has partnered with The Reform Alliance, a local education non-profit organization, to help implement the program. Katie Clifford, Executive Director of The Reform Alliance, said in a statement the program would help “students who need the opportunity the most.” Clifford said: We are getting phone calls from parents and private schools interested in the program every single day. While the program has a limited number of scholarships available for the first year, we’re looking forward to seeing it grow. The biggest improvement the Succeed Scholarship brings to education in Arkansas is that it gives parents, many who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it, a choice in what situation is best for their child. We here at The Arkansas Project know that competition improves outcomes in private business. It’s good to see these principles being introduced into K-12 education in the Natural State.

 

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