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Vouchers for Special Education Students: An Evaluation of Florida's McKay Scholarship Program


Vouchers for Special Education Students: An Evaluation of Florida's McKay Scholarship Program

Jay P. Greene, Greg Forster June 2, 2003
EducationPre K-12

The McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities makes a school voucher available to any special education student in Florida public schools. This program is the second largest school voucher program in the country, and with approximately 375,000 eligible special education students it is likely to become the largest soon. Currently, 9,202 students use McKay vouchers.

This study is the first empirical evaluation of the McKay program’s performance. Based on two telephone surveys—one of parents currently using a McKay voucher and the other of parents who previously used a voucher but no longer do—this study shows that parents are much more satisfied with their experiences in private McKay schools than they were with their experiences in the public schools. This is true both for currently participating parents and for parents who have left the program.

Highlights of this study include:

  • 92.7% of current McKay participants are satisfied or very satisfied with their McKay schools; only 32.7% were similarly satisfied with their public schools;
  • Those participants also saw class size drop dramatically, from an average of 25.1 students per class in public schools to 12.8 students per class in McKay schools;
  • Participating students were victimized far less by other students because of their disabilities in McKay schools. In public schools, 46.8% were bothered often and 24.7% were physically assaulted, while in McKay schools 5.3% were bothered often and 6.0% were assaulted;
  • McKay schools also outperformed public schools on our measurement of accountability for services provided. Only 30.2% of current participants say they received all services required under federal law from their public school, while 86.0% report their McKay school has provided all the services they promised to provide;
  • Behavior problems have also dropped in McKay schools. 40.3% of current participants said their special education children exhibited behavior problems in the public school, but only 18.8% report such behavior in McKay schools;
  • McKay participants provide similar responses. 62.3% were satisfied with their McKay school, while only 45.2% were satisfied with their old public school. Their class sizes also dropped from an average of 21.8 students to 12.7 students. Former participants also reported that their McKay schools performed better than their public schools on almost every other measure;
  • This superior performance by McKay schools was largely provided for the same or only slightly more money per pupil than is spent in public schools. Even though the McKay program allows participants to choose schools that charge tuition above the amount of the voucher, 71.7% of current participants and 75.8% of former participants report paying either nothing at all or less than $1,000 per year above the voucher;
  • Perhaps the strongest evidence regarding the McKay program’s performance is that over 90% of parents who have left the program believe it should continue to be available to those who wish to use it.

The results of these surveys indicate that participants in the McKay program are being significantly better served by McKay schools at no additional cost to the taxpayer and no or little additional cost to their families.