For parents of children with special needs, finding a private school which meets their child’s education goals can be a
frustrating search. Of the more than seventy accredited private schools in the metro Atlanta area, fewer than 10 percent have a student population centered on students with unique educational needs.
But thorough research by parents can turn up traditional private schools that offer learning support to students, either through the school itself or through a partnership with a public school.
Public schools are mandated by federal law to provide special education services to eligible students. Private school students, on the other hand, do not have the same legal rights to special education services.
“If your child is enrolled in a private school and has a learning disability, you can meet with the special education director of your public school district to find out what services your school district is currently offering to private school students,” explains Michele Hancock, author and owner of the “Understanding Special Education” parents’ guide.
Federal funds are available to public schools to develop Instructional Education Plans (ISP) for special education students who attend private schools. The money generally covers only the most basic services, notes Hancock, and it is up to public school administrators to decide what services they will provide.
It often comes down to the choice between public schools where special education services are provided at no cost, or private schools, where tuition can run into the tens of thousands of dollars over a K-12 curriculum.
Most private schools offer financial aid to eligible students, and Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship (GSNS) can also help with tuition for kids who move from public to private school.
Students must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and meet attendance criteria to be eligible. Scholarship amounts vary, but range from $2,500 to $13,000, and can be used at one of nearly 260 state-authorized private schools.