Access Schools*

City: Little Rock
Category: Category IV (Nonprofit Organizations)
Year: 2001

When you read about TEFRA, the embattled state Medicaid program that pays for services for severely disabled children, think about Access Schools.

Founded in Little Rock in 1995, this nonprofit organization provides learning environments for disabled children from preschool age to high school, and half of its funding comes from government sources, primarily TEFRA.

Executive Director Tammy Simmons and Cindy Young, director of the school's preschool program, were speech therapists for Easter Seals Arkansas when they realized they wanted to provide services in a different way. They first opened a private clinic, "and we found out that in our community there were lots of children who weren't being served," Young said.

They came up with an idea for teaching a preschool program for children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, autism and a speech and feeding disability called apraxia in a setting that also includes typical, nonhandicapped children. They opened Access Schools in 1995, and in the past seven years it has grown from eight preschoolers to 100 children through high school age and has moved from 8,000 SF to a 34,000-SF facility.

Revenue more than tripled to $1.8 million last year. Fees for services account for only 20 percent of the revenue, with 30 percent coming from gifts.

The state budget crisis that has led to possible cuts in TEFRA funding has encouraged Access Schools to seek out new revenue sources.

"We have to be prepared for that impact. I think you have to be smart," Simmons said. She has applied for a $500,000 private grant from a foundation that has been helpful in the past - money that could be used to set up an endowment if state funding cuts aren't severe.Bost

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