Tenn. steps up so disabled can attend college

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NASHVILLE - A bill that aims to create college scholarships for Tennessee students with intellectual disabilities is up for a hearing in a subcommittee at the State Capitol. Among the supporters of the legislation is Tammy Day, who runs the Next Steps program for such young adults at Vanderbilt University.

"This legislation would open the doors to many more young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities to have the opportunity to continue their formal education with their peers," Day said.

Funding for the STEP UP Scholarships would come from the state's Lottery for Education Account. Day says the cost would be recouped as the students gain employment and become taxpayers for years to come.

In all, the STEP UP Scholarships would help nearly 50 students a year with tuition, and they have several options on which school to attend. In addition to Next Steps, there's TigerLIFE at the University of Memphis and the FUTURE program at the University of Tennessee.

According to Day, each is a two-year program, helping those with intellectual disabilities not only with education and academic development but also with job training and independent living skills.

"Without programs like Next Steps it's almost like the fiscal cliff for them," Day explained, adding "That after high school they just almost disappear. So these programs are giving them a way to get in. They're here doing the same thing as other college students, at a level that they can find success."

Nationally, only about one disabled person in five who want to work is employed. For those who have finished the Next Steps program, nearly 80 percent have gone on to gain competitive paid employment.

Finding success in her second year at the FUTURE program at UT is 20-year-old Meredith Schlandt of Clinton. According to Meredith's mother, Teresa, her daughter is able to learn and apply knowledge, but she doesn't do well in testing because of a rare genetic disorder that affects the way she processes information.

"She graduated from Clinton High School with a regular diploma," Schlandt said. "(She was) 44th in her class because of all the hard work and determination on her own, but she made an ACT score that wouldn't allow her to attend a four-year-college and so, thanks to the Future program, she's been able to fulfill her dream."

Schlandt said the knowledge and experience her daughter has gained by being able to go to college is priceless, and all should have that opportunity.

More information is at legiscan.com.
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College scholarships, Education, State Capitol, Students with intellectual disabilities, Tennessee, TNNS
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