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Senate Panel Approves Expansion Of Personal Accounts For Disabled Kids

Florida Lawmakers are on their way to expanding a new scholarship program for students with disabilities.

Senate Bill 602 expands the definition of autism. That would allow more families to tap into the program. It would also cost the state about $30 million, with an estimated cost of nearly $50 million for the upcoming year.

More than 1,200 families are using the accounts, and Katie Swingle’s seven-year-old son is one of them. He's autistic and dyslexic, and she says because of the therapy she was able to finance, her son was able to have his first birthday party with friends at a local bowling alley.

“Children who are tended to earlier with autism…have huge advantages over children coming in at kindergarten who haven’t had speech therapy, occupational therapy and ADA Therapy.”

The proposal was amendment to allow three and four year-olds to participate. The Personal Learning Accounts allow families with disabled children to spend money on supplemental services like therapy, summer school and after-school programs. The PLA's were part of a court challenge that was dismissed late last year.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.