The Ohio House has been very busy during the month of December, passing several pieces of legislation that cover a wide range of subjects. One of the most important measures to pass in December, however, was also one of the shortest and simplest.
House Bill 299 expands access to a very important scholarship that helps children with autism learn and thrive. The Autism Scholarship Program pays scholarships to the parents of autistic children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. These funds help pay for some of the costs associated with sending children to programs that more specifically address their needs.
Unfortunately, state law today limits the people who can apply for the scholarship on a child’s behalf only to the natural or adoptive parents. But occasionally there are cases where neither of these definitions apply and instead the child is in the custody of a government agency or someone other than the parent. HB 299, sponsored by Reps. Bill Blessing and Jeff Rezabek, allows for temporary, legal or permanent custodians of an autistic child to apply for the scholarship as well.
As the bill was going through the committee process, Representative Blessing shared with the members of the House a story from his Cincinnati-area district that brought this issue a very important and personal perspective. A woman called his office and talked about a young girl who had autism but who had shown great progress academically through the help of the Autism Scholarship. However, once the woman became the girl’s legal custodian—rather than being a natural or adoptive parent—the girl no longer qualified for the scholarship. Once that happened, all the progress that the little girl had made eventually went away and even began regressing.
That story clearly brought to light the need to pass House Bill 299, which is an example of a simple bill making a major difference. For the children with autism who will fall under this category, I believe this legislation gives them a chance to continue pursuing a strong education.
Cliff Rosenberger is the Ohio House Speaker.