Paying for Alternative Education

At Optimal Edu Options, we specialize in helping connect families with suitable options for education for their children. So, whether you’re the parent of a special needs child or your child needs therapeutic attention for their behavioral issues as part of their education, our educational consulting team is here to help.

A significant concern among many whose children need an alternative to public school is how they’ll afford a private school. Although all those zeros on a therapeutic, behavioral, or private school price tag might seem intimidating, there are more options to pay for your child’s educational needs than you might think.

Tax Deductions

If you have a note from a doctor certifying that your child needs to attend a school for medical reasons, you can deduct those school expenses from your taxes. Examples include teaching a visually impaired child braille, lip-reading classes for a child with hearing impairment, or remedial language classes for someone who needs them because of a congenital disability.

Despite these tax deduction benefits for those who need medically necessary alternative education options, this deduction does not apply to schools your child attends to correct their behavior unless they are primarily at that school for medical reasons. An educational facility for a child who has learning disabilities from autism, for example, is considered medical treatment, while a boarding school emphasizing discipline to correct behavior in a delinquent student would not qualify.

One thing to note about these deductions: Claiming deductions for educational expenses related to medical care in this fashion will put you into an audit category with the Internal Revenue Service. Make sure all your t’s are crossed, and i’s are dotted otherwise on your return, as your return will be minimally reviewed by an actual person instead of a computer. Including a note describing the reason for the expenses deducted, offering a doctor’s note upon request, and explaining where the funds came from will help reduce the likelihood of a full-scale audit.

Medical Insurance

Thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act passed by Congress in 2008, medical insurance is required to offer equal coverage for mental and behavioral healthcare needs and physical healthcare needs. This concept is known as parity. As a result, programs at many facilities, including wilderness therapy and residential treatment centers, are covered by insurance providers. Some are out-of-network and will require a superbill submitted to your insurance company, while others have even taken steps to become in-network providers. 

Staff at any facilities you are interested in can check your insurance to see how much of the cost is covered before you agree to enroll your child in a treatment plan or educational facility. Education is generally not covered by insurance, but mental healthcare your child receives while in a program will be.

Insurance providers require that any services they cover be evidence-based, meaning the treatment methods used have been scientifically shown to improve mental and emotional wellbeing. If a treatment isn’t supported by science, your insurance company most likely won’t cover it. Gail Curran, owner and educational consultant at Optima Edu Options, spends a good portion of her time reviewing the quality and evidence-based outcomes at various programs to ensure client families have the best choices possible for their children.

Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA)

The Empowerment Scholarship Account, or ESA, is an option specific to Arizona. Applications are available on the Arizona Department of Education’s website. The program’s purpose is to help pay for children’s educational expenses beyond the public school system, specifically for children who may have challenges in a public-school setting.

Examples of eligible students include those with special needs, the children of military parents, residents of Native American reservations, and those attending a school rated by the Department of Education as a “D” or “F” school. In addition, the ESA provides funding for a wide range of uses, including tuition for private alternative schools. These funds can even be used for Department of Education-approved evaluations of a student’s psychological and educational abilities, as well as technology that can assist in learning for those with disabilities.

Optimal Edu Options can help maximize the money you receive from the ESA, ensuring that your child’s ESA funding from the state will be put toward education to fit your child’s specific needs.

Redirecting Public School Funds to Pay for Private School

Suppose your child is enrolled in a public school district. Their Individual Education Plan (IEP) team (typically school administration, teachers, medical staff, a guidance counselor, and anyone else deemed necessary) determines that the public school system cannot serve them well. In that case, it is possible to have the tax money generally paid for your child’s education redirected to a private program.

This situation takes a careful evaluation. First, district officials must agree that not even the special education team in a school district can effectively teach your child. Under these circumstances, the school district would be required to pay for your child’s education in an alternative program. This means that it can be a lengthy and involved process, and if the school district officials are uncooperative in your decision to send your child to a private school using public funds, legal action against the district may be required.


Seeing the tuition costs for alternatives to public school can be daunting, whether wilderness therapy, a behavioral, therapeutic, or private school. However, you’re not alone in paying for these alternative education options. There are multiple resources to take advantage of that can help pay for your child’s education if public school isn’t working for them. If you’d like more information or want to get the ball rolling on getting your child into an alternative form of education, contact us today. Nothing in your student’s education is more important than ensuring they receive schooling that best sets them up for lifelong success. 

It is also advisable to have your attorney and accountant review. 

Optimal Edu Options is an educational and therapeutic placement consulting agency. We work with families across Arizona and throughout the United States. Our experienced team has the expertise necessary to effectively support your family and child in finding the best educational and therapeutic options to meet your family’s needs. Reach out to us today for more information about our services and how they can help. We offer a free 30-minute consultation. Email or call us at (602) 904-1282. Book online at