shows a classroom for small children with a blurred exposure of a woman teacher
This teacher is a blur of constant motion as she readies her new classroom for the first day of school. Credit: Editor B, flickr creative commons

By Holly West

With state lawmakers wrangling over competing tax plans in the General Assembly, advocates are looking to protect all of their tax credits and loopholes.

The disability community is no exception; lobbyists who represent children with disabilities are working to insure a tax credit that gives money to those children to attend nonpublic schools gets protected.

The tax credit was established in 2007 to help children with disabilities pay for private school or other special-education services. In this legislative session, that tax credit may become a scholarship grant instead.

“We are very concerned that this program, which has been very successful, would be eliminated or repealed during the tax-reform debate,” said Julia Adams, assistant director of government relations for The Arc of North Carolina, which advocates for people with disabilities. “That’s why it’s very important that we switch it from a tax credit to a scholarship.”

The amount of money each student is eligible to receive – up to $3,000 per semester – would not change.

If the program becomes a scholarship, more low-income children would qualify to receive the funds. Adams said the bill would provide help to children who can’t get it under the current system.

“This opens it up to an entire community of individuals who would be in one of the lower economic brackets,” she said.

The current program

At present, families who haven’t been happy with how their disabled children are being treated in the public school system and choose to move them to a private school receive a $3,000 per semester break on their taxes. In the 2011 tax year, 619 families received the tax credits. From the returns that have been filed so far for the 2012 tax year, 485 credits have been claimed.

Jennifer Mahan, director of advocacy and public policy for the Autism Society of North Carolina, said that under the bill more needy children would have access to assistance.

“Most of the families that I talk to who want to take advantage of the tax credit fall into an arena where their tax liability isn’t great enough for them to take advantage of it, and it’s very disappointing,” Mahan said.

To qualify for the program, students must have an individual education program (IEP), a plan created with the school district, a child’s family and any medical providers to help optimize a child’s ability to learn. The child must also be receiving daily special-education services at their current school.

Adams said The Arc has been lobbying for this legislation for a long time.

“We all recognize that not one box fits all,” she said. “For some students, they have exhausted all of the services that the public school could offer them and they were still struggling.”

Spending wisely

In a Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday, several members expressed concerns about ensuring the money was being used to pay for quality services.

The scholarship grant program will cost the state $13.4 million in fiscal years 2013-18.

Mahan and Adams both say the program will save money in the long run. The average cost to educate a child in the North Carolina public school system is $8,436 per year. Special-education students cost the state an average of nearly $11,000 per year.

Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Pleasant Garden) said she wasn’t sure there was enough oversight for the private schools being paid with these state funds.

“A credit to the parent is one thing, but the assurance of the services to the child with a developmental disability is an issue,” she said, noting that school districts issue and track the progress of children with IEPs.

“How does the school system make sure some other school that they have no authority over adheres to the requirements of the IEP?” Robinson asked.

The sponsors of the bill said the Department of Public Instruction and the N.C. Special Education Assistance Authority make sure the money is being used to provide services to the child, but parents are ultimately responsible for ensuring the quality of service.

“Parents with children of disabilities are keenly aware of what’s working for their kid and what’s not working for their kid,” Mahan said. “We honestly believe that parents do really understand their children really well.”

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2 replies on “Children with Disabilities May Soon Receive Scholarship Grants”

  1. “Happy” with how your child educated? NC public school system refused to evualte my austic son as he was too intelligent to be disabled.. So I paid to have him evaluted at Baptist Wake Forest Medical Center, and when the school system finally evaluated him one of the comments was his biggest obstacle would to have it accepted that he had a disability. Even with the Medical Center and division TEACCH of UNCCH recommending an IEP, he was refused one. I was also refused to be informed of his school assignments (I didn’t have the right to know) and to hand in assignments at the front desk. Special education – place a child who read at college school level in a class of non-readers. He only learned how little he mattered to the public school. So I could either sue the school system or pay to have him educated outside. With a medical recommendation for this special education his education was deductible as a medical expense. He just earned a Chancellor’s award for this last semester in college.

  2. It sounds as if there is more to this story. All parents/guardians have a right to their child assignments. Turing in assignments in the office is always a plus because it does not disrupt the classroom, why not send it in with your child? Also, if he is performing academically at or above the expectations, he would never qualify. Special Education is about the child’s ability to perform in the classroom. A student can have a disability and not qualify because the disability is not impacting his education. I could only wish that my child would graduate college and she has SpEd services.

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