Special Education

Bush Panel Reports Concerns On Spec. Ed. Vouchers

By Lisa Goldstein — April 30, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A national advisory panel on disability issues has raised questions about how a federal special education voucher program could ever work.

The brightest red flag? Students with disabilities would give up protection under federal law when they attend private schools through voucher programs, says the report released by the presidentially appointed National Council on Disability.

The main federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, gives parents legal recourse if public schools aren’t meeting their children’s needs. But if children voluntarily moved to private schools, as many presumably would under a voucher plan, they would leave that security behind, the report says.

The release of the April 15 report, “School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities,” comes as members of Congress work through revising the IDEA. Lawmakers are contemplating setting up a federal school choice program for students with disabilities under the IDEA. First passed in 1975 and up for reauthorization this year, the law guarantees special education students a free, appropriate public education.

“We want these questions answered by Congress before they make any kind of decision,” said Martin Gould, a senior research specialist for the National Council on Disability. “They need to proceed carefully as they go through the process and deal with these fairly critical issues.”

The report from the 15-member council—which has 14 appointees named by President Bush and one Clinton administration holdover—also calls into question whether a federal program should be based on the sole statewide voucher program in existence for special education, a Florida initiative held up by some congressional lawmakers as a model.

Florida’s McKay Scholarship program offers vouchers for students whose parents believe the public schools haven’t met their children’s needs—whether or not the school is considered failing in the eyes of the state.

But the report says the private schools in the program are not held to the same standards as public schools. Therefore, in any federal voucher program for special education students, Congress should consider whether private schools must be held accountable to the same degree as public schools for their education of students with disabilities, the report advises.

Nascent Plans

So far, the idea of a special education voucher program is just that: an idea. Lawmakers have not yet introduced any detailed plans.

Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had feinted at amending the proposed IDEA with a measure allowing states to use federal money to create such programs, but then decided to hold back on the idea while he addresses colleagues’ concerns. He plans to introduce the measure in the coming weeks.

Rep. DeMint, away for Congress’ spring recess, could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee said the report underestimates parents’ judgment. The Senate education committee may include a school choice program in its upcoming proposed version of the IDEA, or lawmakers on the committee may propose the idea in separate amendments.

“This report appears to be another example of the education establishment starting from the unfortunate perspective that parents are unable to make the best choices about their children’s education,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the education panel’s chairman. “We believe that parents ... with good information and real options, can make the best choices and decisions about their children’s ability to learn.”

The report points out what it views as other pitfalls in voucher programs that apply to students with disabilities. For example, the report says, voucher programs may result in greater economic segregation of schools.

Vouchers typically cover only a portion of what private schools charge for a special education student, which usually is considerably higher than the tuition for a regular student, it says. Thus, the report argues, such a program holds the potential to benefit disproportionately the affluent, who can afford to supplement vouchers to cover the actual costs.

Public schools may be left to serve only poor students with more significant disabilities at a reduced level of financial support, the report argues.

In addition, it says, special education voucher programs could be devastating to the infrastructure in school districts already set up to handle students with disabilities. If a district lost students with disabilities to private schools, the money provided by the state for their education would follow them to their new campus.

Then districts would be less equipped, the report asserts, to serve the students who remain in district schools.

Events

Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Download DOWNLOADABLE: Does Your School Use These 10 Dimensions of Student Belonging?
These principles are designed to help schools move from inclusion of students with disabilities in classrooms to true belonging.
1 min read
Image of a group of students meeting with their teacher. One student is giving the teacher a high-five.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
Special Education 5 Tips to Help Students With Disabilities Feel Like They Belong
An expert on fostering a sense of belonging in schools for students with disabilities offers advice on getting started.
4 min read
At Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Woodinville, Wash., special education students are fully a part of the general education classrooms. What that looks like in practice is students together in the same space but learning separately – some students are with the teacher, some with aides, and some are on their own with a tablet. Pictured here on April 2, 2024.
A student works with a staff member at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Woodinville, Wash. on April 2, 2024. Special education students at the school are fully a part of general education classrooms.
Meron Menghistab for Education Week
Special Education Inside a School That Doesn’t Single Out Students With Special Needs
Students with disabilities at this school near Seattle rarely have to leave mainstream rooms to receive the services they need.
8 min read
During recess at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Woodinville, Wash., students have cards with objects and words on them so that verbal and nonverbal students can communicate. Pictured here on April 2, 2024.
During recess at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Woodinville, Wash., students have access to cards with objects and words on them so that verbal and nonverbal students can communicate. Pictured here, a student who has been taught how to lead and use commands with a campus service dog does so under the supervision of a staff member on April 2, 2024.
Meron Menghistab for Education Week
Special Education What the Research Says One Group of Teachers Is Less Likely to Identify Black Students for Special Ed. Why That Matters
Researchers say their findings argue for diversifying the teacher workforce.
4 min read
Full length side view of Black female instructor in mid 40s with hand on shoulder of a Black elementary boy as they stand in corridor and talk.
E+/Getty