60 students use scholarship to enroll in private schools

LAWRENCEVILLE - At least 60 students have used the Special Needs Scholarship to enroll in Gwinnett County private schools, school administrators said.

Enrollment figures by county and school are not yet available from the state, but students were required to be enrolled in a private school by Sept. 21 to receive the tuition voucher.

Hopewell Christian Academy in Norcross admitted 25 students, all of whom had disabilities that allowed them to be mainstreamed in the public schools, said Beauty P. Baldwin, the school's administrator.

"We made sure we selected kids we knew we could service," Baldwin said.

The students on the scholarship are doing well, and Baldwin said many needed to be in a smaller classroom.

Branch Christian Community School in Lawrenceville admitted 21 students, and all but one came from Gwinnett County Public Schools, said Cassia Beidel, who handles the school's admissions and finances.

The school only services students who had specific learning disabilities, Beidel said.

The Special Needs School of Gwinnett, however, serves students with a range of disabilities, Principal Elinore Trotter said. The school admitted 14 students who came from nine counties, she said.

Trotter said the scholarship program is a "work in progress."

"I think it's going to be nothing but good in the future," she said.

The scholarship program gives students tax money to attend an approved private school. An award is made up to the cost of educating the child in a public school.

Trotter said parents have been pleased with the scholarship amounts they have received. The biggest problem with the program, she said, is that the schools won't receive the tuition money from the state until November.

While she said the state did an excellent job of communicating with the private schools, Trotter said communication with the parents needs to improve. Several people were unaware of the scholarship opportunity, she said.