The Columbus Dispatch reports that the number of new Ohio scholarship applications increased this year to more than 17,400, up from 17,000 last year. Another 1,544 requests for the state’s most recent special-needs scholarship program were also made.

Ohio currently has four scholarship programs. One of the country’s oldest programs, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, was launched during the 1996-97 school year. Students who live within Cleveland Municipal School District boundaries may use a scholarship to attend private schools or public schools bordering the district, although no public school has ever participated. No more than half of new scholarship recipients may be students formerly enrolled in private schools. Currently, more than 5,000 students attend 40 private schools using these scholarships, which average less than $3,000. Eligible public-school students also receive tutoring scholarships for services beyond what their public schools provide. Last year, these scholarships increased from $800 to $1,550 per student to reflect the size of the state’s EdChoice Scholarships. The program was also expanded to included students in all grades, not just kindergarten through grade eight.

The Autism Scholarship Program began operating in the 2004-05 school year, and today nearly 1,700 students with autism use scholarships averaging $16,000 to get the educational services they need from 200 participating providers.

The Educational Choice Scholarship Program (EdChoice) began in the 2006-07 school year so that students in chronically failing public schools could attend private schools instead. By the next school year, the program will expand to 60,000 scholarships (four times more than last year) and eligibility will be expanded to include students attending schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. Currently, more than 16,000 students are attending 270 private schools using scholarships averaging less than $4,000.

Ohio’s newest school-choice program, the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, will be launched in the 2012-13 school year. Up to 5 percent of students with special needs statewide, about 13,000 children, will be eligible for scholarships worth 90 percent of their special-education funding amounts, capped at $20,000. Students must be enrolled in public schools and may use their scholarships to pay for private school tuition, as well as additional services at private therapists or their public school districts.

What do these education options mean for Ohio families? For the Delman family, “As soon as we heard about [the EdChoice] program, we decided to stay in Columbus. …if it weren’t for the program, we would have sought employment opportunities in cities where we have extended family…In the public school system, there are no easy answers…In the meantime, while the system is so negative, we want our kids to get a good education in a safe atmosphere where they can have positive peers.”