Monday, March 12, 2012

A Birthday in Utah

Carson Smith, seen here with his mother, Cheryl.
This past weekend, Utah’s school choice program turned seven!  On March 10, 2005, then-Governor Jon Huntsman signed the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship into law, creating the state’s only publicly funded private school choice program and giving parents of students with special needs a choice in their children's education.

The Carson Smith program enables students identified as disabled and who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.  In 2011, the legislature strengthened this program by increasing funding, allowing more children with special needs to access the program. 

Named after Carson Smith, a young boy with autism whose mother fought tirelessly for parental choice, this program is serving 635 students in the 2011-12 school year.

Carson was diagnosed with severe autism at a young age and at first attended public school like his siblings.  But soon his school suggested to Carson’s mom, Cheryl, that he attend a specialized school.

But private school tuition for schools that specialize in educating special needs students can cost as much as $20,000.  Cheryl made sacrifices for Carson to attend his private school and began advocating the state legislature to provide help to families like hers.

Thanks to Cheryl’s tireless efforts, the legislature passed the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship in 2005.  Now, seven years later, Carson is a recipient of a scholarship from the program that bears his name, and he attends the Pingree School for Children with Autism.  At his school, Carson has made significant progress on in a host of ways, from learning to put on clothes to speaking some words.

“Getting the help your child with disabilities really needs and deserves should not be based on how much money you make,” Carson’s mom, Cheryl said. “I wasn’t asking for the moon, just some help […] Along with the challenges, he is also our greatest joy.  Every new thing he does is a celebration. We can’t imagine life without him.”

Happy birthday to the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship, a program that is changing not just Carson’s life, but the lives of hundreds more children, too.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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