NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Schools And The Difficult To Educate

January 1, 2000

Public schools educate the vast majority of the estimated 5.37 million special needs students in the United States, but the private sector offers considerable opportunities, according to a recent joint study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Reason Foundation.

The report reviews private educational programs available to students with disabilities, at-risk students and juvenile offenders:

  • About 3,000 private schools in the U.S. serve about 100,700 students with special educational needs -- according to state education reports, which understate private school enrollment.
  • Special needs students include those with serious emotional disturbances, who account for 40 percent of the total.
  • At least seven states contract with nonpublic alternative schools to serve dropouts, homeless youth, teen parents, abused or neglected children, and those with substance abuse problems or who are emotionally troubled.
  • Roughly 35,000 adjudicated juveniles are housed in 2,000 privately operated facilities at which academic instruction is mandatory.

Students are often sent to private facilities at public expense when public schools cannot or will not accept the educational responsibility. In addition, some parents place their children independent of government involvement and pay the tuition themselves. At least 43,795 students with disabilities attend special private schools at parents' expense. The National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network estimates that some 30,000 children with disabilities are homeschooled in the United States.

Private providers are well equipped to meet the needs of these difficult-to-educate students, say researchers. Among their recommendations:

  • Compare student achievement for a variety of placements, as well as improve accountability by linking school achievement to funding.
  • Revise funding formulas and laws to incorporate cost controls.
  • Identify and eliminate onerous regulations in both the public and private sector.

Other recommendations include placing parents in charge of placements, granting tax credits for home schooling or tuition costs, and encouraging the creation of charter schools.

Source: Janet R. Beales and Thomas F. Bertonneau, "Do Private Schools Serve Difficult-to-Educate Students?" October 1997, Reason Foundation and Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 119 Ashman Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, MI 48640, (517) 631-0900.


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