Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vouchers: What Would They Mean for Special Education?

Last night, Education Week sponsored a debate at Teachers College at Columbia University on education between education advisers for President Obama and Governor Romney. I'll post the video and transcript when it's available soon. If you care about education, especially special education and Title I funding for families in poverty, I strongly encourage you to watch the debate. I guarantee it will give you more substantive information on education policy than you'll get in tonight's presidential debate.

In the debate, much time was devoted to the candidates' differing strategies to improve education and choice for students and parents. Romney has advocated turning Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) into a voucher program. Next to health care reform and Medicaid, this may be the most important issue in this election for people with disabilities. The Romney camp argues that vouchers will give families more choice and reward good schools; the Obama camp agrees with the concept of choice, but are concerned about removing the protections that the federal law currently provide.

As background, I recommend these two articles by Nirvi Shah, who does a great job reporting on special education issues for Education Week. Keep up on this and other special ed issues by following her "On Special Education" blog.

Read "Details of Romney's School Choice Plan Emerge," May 24, 2012. Excerpt:

"Many advocacy groups warn parents against using vouchers for students with disabilities because, in doing so, they give up their rights outlined in federal education and disability laws. And they may not know that.

" 'We have to remember that a family with a child who has a disability never really has the same choice as others. By virtue of having a disability that qualifies them for an Individualized Education Program, a private school for instance, would never guarantee via a voucher that they would provide a free appropriate public education and the services outlined in the IEP,' said Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
"In addition, the Council for Exceptional Children's Lindsay Jones says that it's the wrong time to consider siphoning special education funding from public schools.
" 'This proposal's potential to take money out of our public school system and place it in the hands of private business is also especially concerning at this point in time,' Jones said. 'School districts around the nation have seen deep cuts in funding over the last few years as our nation confronts a recession, increased needs, and declining revenues. These cuts have impacted districts' ability to provide services to children in need—further cuts won't help.' "
Read "Would Romney Voucher Plan Equalize Special Ed. Opportunities?" June 8, 2012.

Shah cites an article from the Atlantic by a parent and attorney who says "there's already a system of vouchers built in: Schools that believe they can't provide the right educational services and environment a student needs can choose to send that student to a private school, at the public school's expense. It's called private placement."

Shah reports, the author "goes on to say that for Romney's plan to work, state and local special education dollars would also have to become portable, something I can't imagine every state and school board agreeing to. Many special education advocates oppose vouchers, however, because unlike private placements, students lose their protections under federal law—the very law that would be paying for their private schooling under Romney's proposal—IDEA."
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