Parents of students with disabilities face unique challenges that may be hard for those not in their situation to comprehend. The right learning environment is key for all students, but for children with disabilities it is critical, as are the right services and therapies.
Oklahoma lawmakers understood this when in 2010 they created the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program. It provides state dollars for parents to enroll their children in private schools that better meet their needs and are approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
It didn’t take long for opponents of parental choice to file a lawsuit against the LNH scholarships, leaving participating families and schools in legal limbo. This also served as a deterrent against those wishing to participate in the program given the uncertainties of whether or not it would continue.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court now has lifted that cloud of uncertainty, unanimously concluding this month that the program is in compliance with the state constitution.
This represents more than a relief for the families of 400 children using the scholarships. It also gives the green light for those who want to participate but have held back until the court challenge was resolved.
We believe more parents will apply for scholarships, which is why the Foundation for Excellence in Education has strongly supported Oklahoma’s program and other state programs since their beginnings.
Florida was a pioneer in this effort, instituting the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities in 1999. That year, six children obtained scholarships. Now more than 30,000 participate, making it the largest and most successful choice program for students with disabilities in the country. Surveys show parents are overwhelmingly happy with their choices.
Some states, including Florida, are moving forward by giving parents even more choices with Education Savings Accounts. These allow moms and dads to further customize their children’s education by giving them the freedom to shop for approved services and therapies.
Parents want and deserve choices, particularly those who face the added challenges of raising children with disabilities. Their love, passion and advocacy for their children has helped ensure they are a priority in an education system that once shunned them.
Congratulations to Oklahoma for championing all kids in the Sooner State. Now that the constitutional challenge has been resolved, lawmakers can move forward with confidence in creating more options and opportunities for all families.
About the author
Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet
Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at Mike@excelined.org