The following is a press release from COPAA regarding a recent study of school choice regarding students with special needs. It confirms what I have suspected for some time that school choice is largely ineffective for students with special needs and requires serious changes to provide meaningful benefit to all students, including those with special needs. In my view, school choice is thrown around like a political slogan without full consideration of the systemic effects of school choice and the effect on individual students especially those with special needs.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) released School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities: Examining Impact in the Name of Choice which provides both in-depth and an at-a-glance look at state practices regarding the rights of students with disabilities in voucher states and also sheds light on the pros and cons of voucher programs.
Denise Marshall, executive director stated: “COPAA is frequently brought into discussions about the voucher dilemma – whether to allow precious tax dollars to support voucher programs regardless of such programs’ support of the civil rights of students, specifically those with disabilities. In response, we have surveyed our members, reviewed state policies and practices and developed guiding state and federal policy recommendations that we believe reflect our Mission and support students with disabilities and their families. Our report is intended to both shed light on current civil rights practices under voucher programs, draw attention to the harmful and unfair practices currently supported in certain states and highlight areas where state and federal policy can be improved to better support students with disabilities and their families.”
Highlights from the report include:
- Most states funding voucher programs do not allow students with disabilities to retain their full rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- Parents often choose a voucher regardless of the availability of civil rights protections due to the urgency of their child needing to change schools.
- Voucher funding is rarely sufficient and therefore only parents with adequate finances have the option to use a voucher.
- Special-education specific voucher programs typically fail to include all students with disabilities and rarely accept students who are twice exceptional.
- Too little data exists to compare the academic outcomes of students with disabilities [and other participating students] to the outcomes of public school students.
Marshall concluded, “COPAA believes the purpose of a voucher is to provide choice, not to deny rights or abdicate responsibility. Given what we have learned, far too many students are being forced to relinquish important civil rights in order to access public education funds. A State should not be able to use “choice” to skirt their responsibility to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities and federal funds should not be made available for vouchers unless all student civil rights are fully upheld.”