Special-Needs Scholarship Act
Eight local schools to participate in program

LAWRENCEVILLE - With help from a new state scholarship, some parents of students with disabilities may be able to afford private school programs they previously dismissed as too costly, administrators say.

Private school administrators and Gwinnett County Public Schools officials said parents have been calling with questions about the choices available through the Georgia Special-Needs Scholarship Act, approved this week by the state Board of Education.

The exact number of Gwinnett students who will be using the voucher is still unknown, but to receive the state funds, students must be enrolled and attending an eligible participating private school by Sept. 10. More than 3,200 parents in Georgia have applied for the scholarship, said Dana Tofig, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Parents of students with IEPs, or Individualized Education Programs, in Gwinnett County Public Schools were recently sent letters outlining options available through this program, the state's first voucher system. To be eligible for the money, students must have spent the previous year at a public school in Georgia and have an IEP.

Jody Brawner, the upper elementary school principal at Perimeter Christian School in Duluth, said her school offers programs that could help students who are struggling to learn.

"We felt it was important (to apply to participate in the scholarship program)," Brawner said. "If our school is the right place for a student, we wanted to be able to help the student, academically as well as spiritually."

At Branch Christian Community School, students are taught through processed-based learning methods that could be beneficial to students struggling with dyslexia or other cognitive disabilities, Principal Janice Sinclair said.

In metro Atlanta, schools serving students with dyslexia can cost $18,000 a year, Sinclair said. Branch charges $7,300 a year for students with special needs, and the state scholarship could reduce that cost by thousands of dollars, she said.

The arts are a part of the daily curriculum at Branch, and students who struggle with reading may find they are gifted in music or art, Sinclair said. This state scholarship could make Branch's programs more accessible to families interested in the school's curriculum and teaching methods.

At the Lindamood-Bell Gwinnett Center, students can learn remedial skills and transition back into public school, said Lisa Genereux, the center's director. The center is designed to provide one-on-one instruction for six to 12 weeks.

"We want them to get the tools that they need and go back to school," Genereux said. "We're very excited about the opportunity to be one of the providers (in this scholarship program)."

SideBar: Eligible schools

' Branch Christian Community School, Lawrenceville

' First Baptist Duluth Preschool and Kindergarten, Duluth

' Hopewell Christian Academy, Norcross

' Lindamood-Bell Gwinnett Center, Duluth

' Notre Dame Academy, Duluth

' Perimeter Christian School, Duluth

' Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett Inc., Lawrenceville

' St. John Neumann Catholic School, Lilburn