Leading newspapers in Texas are reporting that a leading state lawmaker is working on a bill to create a school choice program for children with autism who can't find appropriate special education programs to attend.
This idea puts a special education wrinkle on a school voucher issue that public school advocates and legislators have blocked in past years because they said it siphons away public dollars from school programs that need them to succeed. The Houston Chronicle newspaper notes: "School voucher programs repeatedly have died in the Texas Legislature, but the Senate Education Committee chairwoman is eying a whittled down school-choice option that might be harder for lawmakers to resist."
You can read the Chronicle story, "Autism Fuels Calls for School Vouchers," online here via TexasInsider.org, published December 18 when Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Republican from Plano (near Dallas), started talking about this plan that would enable families to use state money to pay for private autism education programs. Another story published by the Austin American Statesman today highlights the efforts of parents to drum up support for Shapiro's bill -- which she has not filed yet.
It is clear that demand for autism service is growing in Texas, almost doubling in the past five years to about 17,282 students in the 2005-06 academic year, according to state figures cited by the Chronicle.
This issue, complicated already by its recent history in Texas politics, is finding a mixed reception among advocates, including those for people with disabilities. The Disability Policy Consortium, a Texas umbrella group, says it opposes the voucher program for kids with autism to attend private schools, according to the American Statesman. One reason: state voucher funds might not cover the cost of private education programs, and therefore would exclude those who couldn't afford to pay. Another: private schools could decide which students to accept.