Parents voice fears over state funding cuts for private special education centers

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — There are serious concerns over state funding for special education students in private schools. That includes The Faison Center in Richmond which caters to students with autism.

“He feels safe, secure, happy,” Todd Ratner said about his son’s experience at Faison.

Ratner’s son has been going to The Faison Center on and off for more than five years. The center has been educating kids with autism since 1998.

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“The Faison Center has just been a real life saver for our family,” Ratner said.

But Ratner says he recently got word that funding for the center could be in trouble. He’s concerned that services his son depends on could be in jeopardy.

“It’s horrifying to tell you the truth,” said Ratner.

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For more than 20 years, private schools helping kids with special needs have gotten funding from the state under the Children’s Services Act (CSA). But under a current budget proposal by lawmakers, that funding would be given directly to localities who would decide how to disperse those funds.

“I don’t think that this was the intent of the legislators,” said Brian McCann, president of The Faison Center.

McCann fears money currently given to private centers won’t get passed on by localities, which could reduce services at Faison and other private centers across the state. Services McCann says public schools simply can’t provide.

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“We have professionally trained folks that can handle children in our case with autism and developmental disabilities who may have severe behavioral challenges,” McCann said.

“Nothing anticipated here is going to take any dollar away from any child that’s getting services now,” Delegate John O’Bannon, R-Henrico County said.

O’Bannon says funding under the act has been spiraling out of control. He says their proposal aims to bring costs down.

“What this budget language does is basically start a dialogue on whether there are ways we can make this program a little more efficient and still take good care of these kids who definitely need the services,” O’Bannon said.

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Lawmakers say they’re currently working with Faison and other private special education schools to ensure services aren’t endangered.

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