The case for special education vouchers

Patrick Gibbons

Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene make the case for special education vouchers in Education Next. The highly detailed article covers everything regarding this issue from the history to the very popular myths of special education to the real costs.

Some important things to remember:

1) Federal Law requires states to provide free and appropriate education to children with special needs – public or private.

2) Parents may unilaterally place their child in private schools and be reimbursed for the cost of tuition if they can prove in court that the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education.

3) Costs for special education have not risen drastically enough to dry up resources for other uses in public education. In fact, the Federal government provides substantial support for special education programs.

4) The student population with severe mental retardation are on the decline. Students with autism make up only 0.3 percent of the student population and account for 0.45 percent of all public education expenditures.

5) The largest growth in special education has been from Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) which are minor and inexpensive to provide care.

6) Special education vouchers have slowed the growth of SLD identification as public schools may have been diagnosing poor performing students as SLD in order to gain access to additional funds.

7) Special education vouchers are often cheaper than the cost of a public education. Florida’s McKay scholarships (special needs voucher) average just $7,206 while the average disabled student in Florida’s public schools costs approximately $17,000 per year.

On a side note: Senator Barbara Cegavske (R, District 8) has attempted (at least twice now) to introduce and pass a school choice program for special needs children. As the evidence in support of special education vouchers (and tax-credits) mounts, Senator Cegavske may find herself with more momentum in 2011.