Indiana's voucher program allows parents to receive thousands of dollars that can be applied toward tuition at private schools that participate in the program. The amount of aid is based on the per-pupil funding the state sets for a student who otherwise would attend public school in his or her local district, so it doesn't necessarily cover all of the private school tuition.
The Parks family started looking for a new school two years ago for Chakotay, who is somewhere in the middle of the autism spectrum. Socially, he's about two years behind but is learning well.
Three to four months into the search, they found Independence Academy.
"It was number one on our Christmas list," said Parks, whose wife had cancer and died in January.
Parks said he and his wife always figured a special needs school would join the program at some point, and it was his wife who pestered state officials, looking for information.
She called, emailed and showed up at the Statehouse so often that Indiana Department of Education workers remembered to reach out to her family once a special education school applied for the program.
Lisa Roesler, director of Independence Academy, understands the benefit to families such as the Parkses of her school and other so-called niche schools accepting vouchers.
"Different environments work for different students," she said, "and the voucher program provides more possibilities to find a program that more specifically meets your child's needs, whatever those are."