Private schools (also known as Independent schools) are another option for your child, if you are unable to get the educational experience from the public system that your child requires.
Let’s talk money
Firstly, there is the operating grant that the province gives to the school. For Grade 1 and 2 schools the amount is 50% and 35% respectfully of the local district’s per-student grant amount. Other schools are not eligible for the grant. This money is put toward the operating expenses of the school. The parents pay for the remainder of the costs through tuition charges.
Secondly, there is Special Education money available for your child. There must be a diagnosis of autism by a qualified professional, a current IEP must be in place and ”the student must be receiving additional special education services directly related to the autism on an ongoing and frequent basis”. If these conditions are met, the student then qualifies for Level 2 funding, which is $16,000 per year. The bad news is this will not be enough to pay for a full time aide, and the parents will be responsible for the balance.
Generally tuition fees may not be claimed unless the education is at a post-secondary level.
If you are considering a charitable donation for a religious education, please review the Tax Circular IC75-23 prior to preparing your taxes.
A portion of the tuition may be claimed as a child care expense. Portions of the day where your child is under supervised care – such as lunch hour – can be called “childcare.” You will have to calculate what percentage of the student’s day is apportioned to “childcare” and not academic instruction and claim that percentage of your private school’s tuition. If your child is in boarding school, a far greater portion of your tuition can be used for this purpose.
Private schools have been known to get creative with their tuition fees. It has happened that the school bills for abnormally low tuition amounts and then requests a “voluntary donation” to the school. Numerous audits from CRA have resulted from this practise as parents try to claim the “voluntary donation” on their taxes.
Tuition fees may be eligible for the medical expense tax credit. To qualify, a medical practitioner must certify that the equipment, facilities or personnel provided by the school are required because of the student’s mental or physical needs.
Factors to consider
Some parents report that their child receives more services in regards to Special Education Technology (SET BC) and the Provincial Outreach Program for Autism and Related Disorders (POPARD). On the other hand, services such as Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists or Speech Therapists are generally not available.
Aides in the private system are generally not unionized, so parents may have more say in the selection of the child’s aide.
Public or Private?
Firstly, if finances are a primary concern then the public system is the only choice.
Next, there are some outstanding public and private schools which cater to your child’s special needs and provide for a rich educational experience. Likewise there are horror stories in both systems. Each school must be evaluated on their own merits.
I recommend that you link up with other parents in your area who have kids with autism and learn from their experiences. You may also consider posting on the FEAT board and ask other parents for their input.