Over the last 30 years, special education has grown dramatically in Florida and across the nation. But in the last decade, Florida has managed to constrain growth in special education in a way that other states have not: since 1999, special education rates have actually declined in Florida while national disability rates have increased by about 5 percent.
Whats Floridas secret? According to our new study for the Manhattan Institute, the states McKay Scholarship Program, a novel voucher program for disabled students, is an important piece of the puzzle.
In Florida, as in most other states, schools receive additional funding for each student identified as disabled. Often, these additional resources are greater than the actual cost of providing special-education services, giving schools a financial incentive to increase their diagnoses.
The financial incentive to misdiagnose is particularly apparent when classifying students as having a specific learning disability (SLD). Thats because SLD is the most common, the most ambiguous, and the least costly category of special education. In many cases, school officials might simply be trying to get extra resources to help struggling students. But the net effect is the misclassification of a huge number of students as having an SLD.
The McKay program reduces the financial incentive for Floridas schools to misdiagnose learning disabilities by placing revenue at risk whenever a student is placed into special education.
The program offers any disabled student in Florida the opportunity to attend a private school with a voucher. The voucher is redeemable as tuition at a McKay-accepting private school in the amount of money spent on that student in public school. If a school determines that an academically struggling, non-disabled student has a learning disability, it might get the additional subsidy from the state, but it might also lose that subsidy, and all of the students base-funding, if the student walks out the door with a voucher. McKay makes schools think twice before misclassifying a student.
In our new study, we found as the number of nearby, McKay-accepting private schools increases, the probability that a public school will identify a student as having an SLD decreases significantly. The program reduced the probability that a fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-grader in a school facing the average number of nearby private options was diagnosed as SLD by about 15 percent.
Original Source: http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/sep/03/na-vouchers-control-special-ed-growth/news-opinion-commentary/