SINCE the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act was signed into law in 2010, frivolous lawsuits filed by opponents have often dominated associated news coverage. Now it's time to focus on the law's impressive success, not the dissembling of detractors.
Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships allow the use of state funds (already designated for an individual child's education) to pay for tuition at a private school catering to those with special needs. Before the law passed, a research project gave money to some Oklahoma parents of children with autism to cover their child's services. In a surprising number of cases, parents ultimately returned the money because services simply weren't available.
That's changing. The Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship law is a major reason.
Good Shepherd Catholic School at Mercy, which serves children with autism spectrum disorders, opened in 2011 thanks in part to the scholarship law. The school is Oklahoma's first specifically designed for children with autism. School director Brandi Bramlet notes that applied behavioral analysis requires one-on-one interaction, which increases expenses. She said the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship “helps offset that cost so that the parents can afford it.”
The law also is credited with causing an enrollment surge at Town & Country School in Tulsa, which serves children with learning differences. Just as importantly, children with special needs are achieving meaningful improvement thanks to the law, as a recent video from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs demonstrates.
For more than a year now, OCPA, a free-market think tank, has tracked the progress of three children getting scholarships. Before receiving the scholarship, David Hood said his daughter, Chloe, “wasn't really speaking. She didn't have a lot of facial expressions.” Chloe now can access specialized education. The results: She mastered out of first-grade reading and advanced to second-grade material — at age 5. Her mother, Tara, says Chloe is catching up socially and is “very close to being on target.”
“Especially when I look back at how she was two years ago when she was diagnosed, she's come so much further than I had even thought was possible for her — in a short amount of time,” Tara said. David Hood said, “At the start of the race, she was behind. And now she's caught up to a large degree.”
Phylicia Lewis, who attends Town & Country thanks to a scholarship, used to dread school, comparing it to “walking into a battlefield.” She was often picked on and spent her days crying. This is no longer the case.
“I don't get bullied anymore at school. I have friends now. I feel comfortable going to school. I like going to school. I laugh at school,” Phylicia said. “I actually have fun learning.” Her mother calls it a “joy to know that Phylicia doesn't have to worry about whether or not she can receive an education.”
Kyle Allen, who tutors one scholarship recipient, says, “The successes that we're having here and the successes that all these kids that are getting the scholarship are having does nothing but say — this can work. And it is working.”
Oklahomans should be proud of the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program. In providing meaningful benefits to children with serious challenges, this program is an example of publicly funded education at its best — regardless of where that learning occurs.