Ten years ago, I founded a school with a dear friend and fellow educator for kids and young adults with neurodiversity (ASD, ADD, ADHD, and other learning differences). We did this primarily to advocate for our daughters, who are both on the autism spectrum.
Let me share, there is NOTHING easy about starting a school. In fact, the challenges at times seemed insurmountable, as we were driven by our self-induced purpose to comprehensively meet the needs of the neurodivergent learners at LiFT — Learners that are as beautiful and varied as the stars in the sky.
My experience is that the most challenging element of starting and overseeing our school has not been recruiting families or teachers, nor establishing policies, or building a board. The most difficult aspect has been turning away families and students we know we can serve but who cannot afford the tuition.
In 2014, lawmakers listened to struggling families by creating an Educational Scholarship Account Program, which allows families to use their child’s educational funding to pay for vital services like behavioral, speech and physical therapies, adaptive equipment, tutoring and optimal academic accommodations.
Many families that were struggling to have their needs met were suddenly offered choices. Parents now had the opportunity to identify a school that understood and celebrated their child’s differences.
However, there is now an unintended friction point — the friction point being an extensive waitlist that exists, making it difficult for families to gain timely access to the funds offered by the well-established Educational Scholarship Account.
I applaud House Speaker Paul Renner for proposing new legislation that will eliminate the current waitlist. In my opinion, this will have a tremendously positive impact on so many families. If approved, House Bill 1 by Rep. Kaylee Tuck will expedite the path for families who dream of giving their child a safe, inclusive and individualized education.
Children not having a community where they feel accepted, or a sense of belonging is one of today’s most significant drivers of anxiety, loneliness and sadness. Most parents will attest that finding the right educational environment for their child is life changing. It is even more critical if you have a child with ASD, ADD, ADHD, Down syndrome, or myriad other learning differences.
Being on a ‘waitlist’ for access to an appropriate education only enhances the inequity in education for those with neurodiversity and unique needs. It’s time to end it.
Keli Mondello is the co-founder of LiFT Academy, a private school that serves students with unique abilities in Central Florida.