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Ohio Voucher Program Attracts Students With Learning Disabilities

Nearly 1,400 students with disabilities will attend private schools this year, pay for private therapy, or transfer to a public school outside their district in Ohio using a new voucher program.

The overwhelming majority of students who signed up, more than 1,000, have learning disabilities, the Ohio Department of Education said. In larger districts, a proportionately larger number of students appear to have signed up. For example, 199 in Cincinnati, 103 in Cleveland, 32 in Columbus, and fewer than 10 in many other districts.

The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program is one of two voucher programs for students with disabilities. Another is limited to students with autism. Almost 1,900 students are signed up for that program this year. Ohio also offers vouchers for students who attend underperforming schools.

It's also one of a growing number of voucher programs designed just for students with disabilities. These programs have proven less likely to be challenged in court.

The new program is at about 12 percent of the capacity of the program, which is up to 11,750 students. The cap is equal to about 5 percent of all students with disabilities in Ohio. Students are granted more money based on their disability. A student with a speech or language impairment is eligible for about $7,200 and a student with learning disabilities would have $7,600 to spend, while a student with autism or who is hearing- or vision-impaired would get $20,000.

The number of students enrolled could grow. Parents can apply through Nov. 15 to use a scholarship for the second half of the school year. These students and those who are already using a scholarship will get them for the full 2013-14 school year.

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