Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vouchers for Disabled Students in Trial Run 19 Children Take Up State's Offer of Private School

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vouchers for Disabled Students in Trial Run 19 Children Take Up State's Offer of Private School

Article excerpt

For Kim Drayton, the state's new voucher program sounded like the ideal way to help her 5-year-old son, who has learning disabilities.

Under the program, Drayton needed to prove that the public schools in Duval County have failed to help her son, Jackie, meet his educational goals. If she could do that, she would receive a voucher for her son to attend a private school.

But Drayton found the start of the program to be anything but ideal.

School systems and the state have been struggling with how to implement it. There have been questions about what the application form should look like, what kind of information is required, whose signatures are needed and when decisions will be made.

"It was just so much of a runaround," said Drayton, who spent a week driving around Duval County trying to find the right people to sign her application form. "I just thought it was crazy. Why create a new program and not know how to do it?"

Drayton finally figured the system out and her son now attends Success Academy, a private school in Arlington.

Because this is the program's first year, participation is limited to 5 percent of special education enrollment, which is about 1,000 students in Duval County

Duval County sent out 90 applications but only 30 were returned, said Mark Cashen, general director of exceptional student education for Duval schools.

Of the 30, nine were denied because the applications were incomplete or the student did not attend a public school in Duval County last year, Cashen said.

School system staff evaluate the applications. As outlined by state law, in order to receive the voucher, parents must show that the public school system has failed to help their child meet at least two of their education goals as outlined in their individualized education plan, called an IEP.

"It is a double-edged sword for us," Cashen said. …

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