As Jay Greene and I argue in our new Ed Next article, “The Case for Special Education Vouchers,” parents of special ed students should be provided with vouchers that would allow their children to attend private school. The moral and equitable case for providing special ed vouchers is strong: some special ed students get a raw deal from the traditional public schools, which often are unable to provide the needed services or specialized teachers that a disabled student needs.
Indeed, in a certain sense, special ed vouchers have already existed nationwide for some 35 years under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which allows special ed students to attend private school at public expense. A Sept. 30 report showed that New York City alone spent over $100 million last year on private school tuition for special ed students.
But the problem with existing special ed vouchers under IDEA is that they are available only when parents prove that the public school is inadequate. Needless to say, it turns out to be difficult and expensive for parents to do this, which is why a mere 67,729 special ed students nationwide — out of nearly 6 million — are able to take advantage of their right to obtain private school tuition.
A broader special ed voucher program with no veto power for public school officials would dramatically level the playing field. No longer would funding be limited to the most sophisticated and aggressive parents, who are more likely to spend years battling with an intransigent public school bureaucracy. Instead, special ed vouchers would let more parents and children receive the services they need, at the time and place that they choose.
Moreover, broadly available special ed vouchers could save money for financially strapped public schools, given that special ed vouchers are typically limited to the lower of the amount the public school would have spent or the private school tuition.