Mississippi Rep. Cecil Brown (D-Jackson) said, in reference to vouchers for students with disabilities, “You are getting ready to open the equivalent of puppy mills for children.” Brown expressed concern that parents would be scammed and would lose out on services for their children.
Mississippi politicians are trying to pass a voucher bill for students with disabilities to attend private schools of their parent’s choice. While parents might be frustrated with the services they get in public schools, there is fear, as expressed by Rep. Brown, that outside institutions will gladly take their vouchers and only be interested in the money and not helping their child
School choice for students with disabilities, in most cases, makes absolutely no sense. The majority of private, parochial and charter schools do not provide services that address disabilities of any kind.
So it seems ludicrous to hand over public dollars for services that do not exist, yet many states are doing just that. Politicians either mistakenly believe private is better for students with disabilities, or they see this as a sneaky way to privatize schools in general. Either way, they are doing a disservice to children and wasting tax dollars.
While politicians around the country debate vouchers, many students with disabilities are already provided vouchers. The best known voucher program is the McKay Scholarship in Florida. There they find that many parents use the vouchers, not for special education, but to place children in religious schools. Nor are schools regulated, as noted yesterday in the link to a serious article by Gus Garcia-Roberts in the Miami New Times.
Special ed. vouchers aren’t doing well in other states either. In Wisconsin, a student had to return to public school after a difficult experience in a private school. In the same article Scott Jensen, senior adviser for the American Federation for Children, claims choice schools there don’t have enough money to provide services. He implies that it would be nice if they could do more.
So, if they don’t have the services, why should parents get a voucher worth $6,442 to send their student to one of these schools? Children with disabilities need consistently good programs that are already proven. HERE is more about special ed. vouchers in Wisconsin.
In voucher heavy Ohio, students with autism could be awarded up to $20,000 for a private school, even though many of those schools are not accountable, or they don’t have enough staff. Many parents still opt to stay with their public school. A report in 2007 indicated problems with special ed. vouchers in Ohio. And as I mentioned yesterday, they have problems with vouchers in general.
Parents still have IDEA regulations to fall back on in public schools. Most are savvy enough to hold the school accountable for what is promised under IDEA, even though there is currently a tremendous effort to cut those services. Still, it seems like a no-brainer that children are better off in public school than an unknown institution that, takes the money and only offers empty promises.
Some parents resort to homeschooling out of necessity, even though the public school should be accommodating their child.
I may not agree with the Council for Exceptional Children’s stance on Common Core State Standards, but I do appreciate their guidelines concerning school vouchers for students who have disabilities. A False Choice: Why Voucher Programs are Wrong for Students with Disabilities should give anyone considering vouchers for students with disabilities pause.
Parents and educators have fought hard throughout the years to obtain services for students with special needs, it will be sad to see those services disappear, which is what will eventually happen if vouchers continue to replace legitimate services.
A voucher might be understandable if parents find a private school that specializes services in such a way that they would benefit their child. But parents should be able to document how this would be better than the public school, on a case-by-case basis.
Back in Mississippi, House education chair John Moore (R-Brandon), sees various areas in the state that don’t do special ed. well. So he thinks handing parents a voucher to go to a private school is in order. But if there is no private school that does it better, wouldn’t it make more sense to send those funds to the public schools to improve special ed. programming?
Moore hopes parents won’t take the voucher after they pass the bill. He thinks that will be a sign that they are happy with their special ed. programs.
Instead of relying on signs, perhaps, as the education chair, he and other policymakers could pay a visit to the schools in their state, especially in the questionable areas, and talk with the parents and teachers. I’m sure they will be happy to tell them what students need.