Vouchers Helping Oklahoma Special Needs Children Get A Private Education

Tuesday, August 31st 2010, 5:07 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley & Scott Thompson, The News On 6

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- A new state law will make it easier for parents of children with special needs to attend private schools.

Parents can now apply for vouchers to send their children to a school that's more equipped to handle their child's needs.

The law is meant to help children with learning disabilities, autism, even severe handicaps. Special needs educators say it's important to help those kids and prevent them from falling through the cracks.

Town & Country School is celebrating 50 years of helping students with special needs. Each student has been diagnosed with either a learning disability, ADHD, or Aspergers Syndrome.

"This is where I took off and making great grades and, actually, fitting in and making friends," said Mariah Tunnell, a Town & Country Graduate.

Mariah Tunnell graduated as valedictorian in May from Town & Country. Diagnosed with ADHD, she bounced around from public school to public school before finally enrolling at Town & Country in the 6th grade.

She's made A's ever since.

"They pay attention, they ask you if you need help," Tunnell said. "They make it feel like it's okay to ask for help and not feel embarrassed because other kids might judge you like, 'Oh she doesn't know this, is she dumb?"

A new state law has opened the door for other children with special needs to enroll at private schools like Town & Country. Parents of children diagnosed with a learning disability, autism, severe handicaps, or speech problems can apply for scholarships to attend the schools that have been accredited by the state.

The law doesn't require new spending; it just shifts existing money that's already being spent on students.

Mary Lawrence has been at Town & Country for more than two decades. She's glad to see parents getting a helping hand.

"Most parents select a private school by choice; our parents typically do it because their kids need to be here," she said.

Tunnell agrees and hopes the program helps students like her get a fresh start.

"And I think that's a wonderful idea and I'm glad that the state finally did that because it's very expensive," she said.

To be eligible for the scholarship your child must have previously been in a public school and on an individualized education program because of a special need.

Parents should talk with their child's school service center and ask for information on the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program.