COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new bill introduced in the Ohio Senate could provide more resources to help students with developmental disabilities, their families and educators.
Of the more than 1.5 million public school students in the state, about 250,000 are identified as learners with disabilities, state data showed. That's about 15% of students in K-12.
A developmental delay is a special education eligibility condition assigned when children are slower at reaching milestones in physical, cognitive, social or emotional, communication or adaptive development, according to Ohio law.
Students diagnosed with developmental delays, like J.D. Benton, only have a few years to get the education services they need.
"You already know that you're going to hear, 'Your child isn't meeting this goal, your child isn't hitting this milestone,'" J.D.'s mother Carrie Benton said.
Those comments already take a toll on parents, as is, Carrie added. It is what happens next that is really painful, she said.
"They need this service, but they've aged out," she said.
That’s because a child must have a diagnosis by the age of six. She has had to navigate the school system with little support, she added.
Republican state Sen. Andrew Brenner, from Delaware, said he understood, noting Ohio is currently lagging behind the national standard.
"Unfortunately, their children were diagnosed, you know, age seven, eight, nine and even, you know, ten years old," Brenner said. "And then they could not get the services they were cut off from the funding that was available coming through the feds for these disability services."
The lawmaker, with bipartisan support, introduced Senate Bill 356. It would increase the maximum age from less than six to less than 10, which is the federal code.
"COVID has created a situation where kids have been behind, they're not going to school," Brenner said. "And so by the time they get to school, maybe they're a year or two later due to parents holding their kids back or something because of COVID-related problems. So these kids were not getting diagnosed, and if they're not diagnosed, they're not getting the services that they need in order to get these kids caught up."
This will allow schools to continue working with these children once they are in elementary school — without having to seek a separate condition to receive special education funding, the Republican added.
"If you've got a family that has economic disadvantages, they don't have the resources to help their kids," he said. "I think that these dollars that would be made available to help those kids is great."
If educators can get students better services earlier on, maybe they'll need fewer services later and be able to adapt and cope later, the lawmaker added.
"Accessibility and education really go hand-in-hand," Benton said. "To be able to have that consistency to where they extend that to age ten to service them, would give the ability for that consistency and that smoother transition."
Because the bill is so new, there are no public opponents.
"It seemed like it was a no-brainer type of bill," Brenner added. "I think this is something that everybody, regardless of political background, can support."
Benton loved the idea, but says that it has to be done well and quickly, since it is getting to the end of the year. Brenner acknowledged the time constraints.
If it doesn't pass during the fall or winter, he is planning on reintroducing it in the next General Assembly and getting it into the state budget.
"While that's six months later than it is now, at least I think we can get it done within the next year so it's ready for the following school year," Brenner said. "I think that'll be a huge step for families all over the state of Ohio."
Benton says her family is lucky to have had the resources they did. Now, at age 26, J.D. has graduated college.
"Let's put that child's needs first," the mother said. "Let's help them be successful."
She wants all other parents and students to be able to experience this, not just the ones who got a diagnosis early.