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Washington Examiner


Special Ed Vouchers Work For Everybody

August 18, 2009

By Marcus A. Winters, Jay P. Greene

Most school voucher programs are intended to help low-income students stuck in under-performing urban schools. Voucher programs now operating in four states, however, focus on an even more vulnerable clientele disabled students. Florida’s recent experience suggests that vouchers are the right prescription to improve special education.

Before 1975, about one in five disabled students went unschooled. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), disabled students gained the right to a “free and appropriate education.”

The enactment of IDEA was one of the most important education breakthroughs in the twentieth century. However, the law has been implemented in ways that are severely flawed. Supplementing existing IDEA provisions with special education vouchers addresses many important concerns.

Many parents protest that public schools do not always provide the services legally required by Individualized Education Plans (IEP), which are essentially court enforceable contracts, mandated by IDEA, that outline the specific services to which disabled students are entitled.

When this happens, parents can sue. But the legal process often takes years -- too long to have an effect on the student’s schooling -- and many parents find the cost prohibitive. Further, parents need to weigh these burdens against their limited chance of success; research suggests that courts tend to favor schools over parents.

Vouchers address the issue of inadequate services in two important ways. First, they give disgruntled parents a timely, out-of-court means to remove their child from an unsatisfactory public school.

A survey we conducted found that parents using vouchers in Florida were more likely to receive promised services in their current private school than they were in their former public school. They also reported a higher degree of general satisfaction with their child’s academic achievement.

Second, schools respond to the increased possibility that disabled students might leave by improving the services they provide. A study we conducted last year found that the educational gains made by disabled students in Florida increased as more private school options became available nearby.

Vouchers also help to ensure that low-performing students who are not actually disabled don’t get placed into special education. Though schools frequently complain about burdensome costs due to the rapid expansion of special education over the last three decades, in truth schools in most states benefit financially from diagnosing a student as disabled.

Our new study of Florida’s special education voucher program finds that, for the school year 2005-06, public schools in close proximity to an average number of voucher-accepting private schools were 15 percent less likely to diagnose a student with a learning disability. As an added benefit, vouchers thus save money by slowing the artificially inflated rate of growth in special education.

Taxpayers also win when students use a voucher to attend a private school. Florida’s voucher is worth the lesser of what the public school system would have paid to educate the child or the cost of tuition at the accepting private school. This ensures that the program is at least cost neutral.

In practice, private schools educate disabled students at lesser cost than do public schools. In 2007, the average dollar value of the 21,000 special education vouchers used in Florida was $7,500. That’s less than Florida’s average per-pupil cost to educate both special education and regular enrollment students combined.

Special education vouchers benefit taxpayers and kids. They should be expanded across the states.

Original Source:



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