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New York Post

 

A Special-Ed Fix

April 30, 2008

By Jay P. Greene, Marcus A. Winters

Vouchers For Disabled

TODAY'S public-school systems serve disabled stu dents badly - all too often "warehousing" them in special-education classes rather than providing a good education. (Gov. Paterson's family moved to Long Island during his childhood to avoid such a fate.) But a better answer has appeared: Five states now provide vouchers that disabled students can use to attend any public or private school that will take them.

Evidence from Florida's special-ed voucher program suggests that New York should follow suit.

Nearly 13 percent of public-school students in New York state are in special education. Most have been diagnosed with a relatively mild learning disability and are actually quite similar to regular students in many (and quite possibly most) ways.

New York spends $22,345 per disabled student in instructional expenditures alone - more than twice what it spends on regular students. Overall, special ed accounts for more than a quarter of instructional expenditures in the state.

Yet, despite the high price tag, it's hard to find anyone who's pleased with New York special ed. Countless parents feel their kids don't get the attention or services they need - but to get state help with private-school tuition, their only hope is an expensive and difficult legal process, with little chance of success.

Meanwhile, teacher unions and public-school administrators routinely argue that special education is underfunded - and that disabled students pose a substantial financial burden on their schools.

Florida's voucher program for disabled students offers a better way. It provides a voucher to each student in the state who's been diagnosed with a disability - one worth the amount that would have been spent on the child in a public school or the private tuition, whichever is less. And the results suggest that vouchers can substantially improve special education.

Parents are quite happy. In a survey we conducted in 2002, more than 90 percent of parents in the program said they were satisfied with their children's academic progress in the voucher schools; only 17 percent had been similarly satisfied in their previous public school.

Vouchers gave these parents an important escape route for their children to an educational environment in which they could thrive. (The students never lose their right to an appropriate public education, just gain new options to ensure that their rights exist on more than paper.)

Now, in a new study, we've found that Florida's vouchers have prompted the public schools to do better by disabled students, too. This positive effect is largest for students with relatively mild learning disabilities - that is, 60-plus percent of Florida's disabled students.

How could vouchers improve the achievement of students who stay in public schools? Well, if special ed is as financially burdensome as many say, then disabled students leaving could free resources that can be better targeted to the disabled students who remain. Alternately, the fact that disabled students can take their funds elsewhere may push schools to improve services for them.

We can't know for sure which factor's at work - but it's clear that vouchers help the disabled kids who stay in public schools.

And the academic benefits of special-ed vouchers actually mean cost savings for the taxpayers. In Florida, the students using the vouchers closely mirror those still in the public schools - that is, the distribution of disabilities is virtually the same among the two groups. But the average scholarship amount is only $7,206 - far below what taxpayers spend for special-ed students in the public schools.

Our public schools too often leave disabled kids behind; vouchers have shown promise for improving their education in both public and private schools, while saving taxpayer money. New York should consider joining the states that provide disabled students with greater school choice.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/04302008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/a_special_ed_fix_108820.htm

 

 
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