This week I wrote an article about the idea of using federal special education money as vouchers for students with disabilities, which is currently seeing some high-placed support, including from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
To be sure, any sort of funding shift to a voucher would require a top-to-bottom Congressional overhaul of the 42-year-old Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And the current federal contribution for special education averages out to only about $1,800 per student ages 3-21 with disabilities.
But both DeVos and President Donald Trump are strong supporters of school choice, with Trump specifically calling for a choice program for “disadvantaged” children during his address to a joint session of Congress. (It’s unclear whether students with disabilities would be included under the “disadvantaged” umbrella.)
State School Choice Programs for Students With Disabilities
Federal red tape, however, has not stopped individual states from offering their own choice programs, including vouchers and educational savings accounts. Twelve of 26 voucher programs nationwide are aimed specifically at students with disabilities, as are 4 of 5 educational savings account programs, 2 of 21 tax-credit scholarship programs, and 1 of 9 individual tax credits or deductions. (Also, nothing prevents a student with an individualized education program from taking advantage of any other choice program out there.)
- Arkansas: Succeed Scholarship Program for Students With Disabilities
- Florida: John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program
- Georgia: Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program
- Louisiana: School Choice Pilot Program for Certain Students with Exceptionalities
- Mississippi: Mississippi Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship
- Mississippi: Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
- North Carolina: Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities
- Ohio: Autism Scholarship Program
- Ohio: Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program
- Oklahoma: Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities
- Utah: Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program
- Wisconsin: Special Needs Scholarship Program
Educational Savings Accounts
- Arizona: Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
- Florida: Gardiner Scholarship Program
- Mississippi: Education Scholarship Account
- Tennessee: Individualized Education Account Program
- Arizona: Disabled/Displaced Student Scholarship Program (also known as “Lexie’s Law”)
- South Carolina: Exceptional SC Scholarship
Individual Tax Credit/Deductions
- South Carolina: Exceptional SC Tuition Tax Credit
Thanks to Jason Bedrick, the director of policy at EdChoice, and EdChoice’s 2017 edition of The ABCs of School Choice for this information.
How Well is School Choice Working for Students With Disabilities?
This is where you, the reader, come in. I can find out how many families are taking advantage of these programs. But what I don’t know is how well the programs are working for families. Are you able to access educational options that would have been unavailable to you otherwise? Has waiving your due process rights under the IDEA been a concern, or ultimately irrelevant? Is procuring a voucher easy or a bureaucratic hassle? And, most importantly‐do you feel that your children are learning more because these options are available?
I’d like to hear from parents for an article—I’d like to shift this discussion away from high-level Washington policymakers and down to the family level. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re willing to share your experiences, and share this request with others who might like to talk about their own situations. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Photo: President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hold cards received from the children in a 4th-grade class during a tour of St. Andrew Catholic School on March 3, in Orlando, Fla. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, are at rear.—Alex Brandon/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.