Individuals who legally look after children identified as having autism would be able to apply for an Autism Scholarship on behalf of the child, based on legislation passed during today’s Ohio House session.
The Autism Scholarship Program pays scholarships to the parents of autistic children grades K-12. The scholarship funds up to $27,000 per student and is to pay at least part of the cost of sending the child to a special education program, rather than one provided by the resident school district.
Current Ohio law only specifies that the natural or adoptive parent of a child can apply for the scholarship, even in cases where the child is in the custody of a government agency or someone other than the natural or adoptive parent.
House Bill 299, sponsored by Reps. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain) and Jeff Rezabek (R-Clayton), expands that definition, allowing temporary, legal or permanent custodians of an identified autistic child to apply for the scholarship when the custodian is not the natural or adoptive parent of the child or a government agency.
During committee testimony, Rep. Blessing said that the motivation behind House Bill 299 started with a story in his district. A woman who was the legal custodian of an autistic child reached out to his office, stating that the child no longer qualified for the Autism Scholarship because the woman became her legal custodian. Leading up to that point, the young girl had made tremendous progress since first receiving the scholarship. However, within one year of losing the scholarship, the girl’s progress stalled and even reversed, essentially sending her back to square one.
“I believe that this change to the Autism Scholarship will help many children that are struggling due to unfortunate circumstances in their lives,” Blessing said. “Children should not have to suffer and struggle because those that are responsible for them do not fit a certain definition of parent. I am confident that this will help many children get the help that they need to succeed in the classroom as well as in everyday life.”
“I want to thank Representative Blessing for giving me the opportunity to join him in sponsoring this piece of legislation. House Bill 299 is simply about helping our young students who are struggling with autism and giving them the resources necessary to learn,” Rep. Rezabek said. “Given my background in juvenile court and dealing with custody issues, I feel as though I was able to articulate the need for this change in the law and I am proud to help Representative Blessing in bringing about that necessary change.”
House Bill 299 now awaits consideration by the Ohio Senate.