NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Vouchers for Special Education

September 8, 2003

Ohio's special education enrollments are rising, and so are costs. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires parents and public schools agree on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) -- a contract designating which special education services the schools will make available. If a school fails to deliver, parents can take it to court and force it to comply.

In reality, court costs, paperwork and lack of legal resources make it next to impossible for parents to challenge schools that aren't properly educating their children. It is, as Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute note, "a system only a lawyer could love."

According to Greene and Forster, Ohio would do well to emulate an innovative program in Florida. The McKay Scholarship Program gives parents unsatisfied with the special education services at their child's current school the option to switch their child to a different public school or use a voucher to send them to a private school.

The results have been remarkable:

  • More than 90 percent of McKay parents report being satisfied or very satisfied with the education their children receive at private schools.
  • McKay students are taught in classes that are roughly half as large as the 25-student classes typical of public schools, at no extra cost to taxpayers.
  • More than half of the students in the McKay program reported being harassed because of their disability in public school, while only 5 percent reported similar experiences in private schools.

Whereas an IEP is no guarantee of adequate special education services, the ability to choose a better school ensures that disabled students' needs will be met. The Florida program gives parents -- not school systems or courts -- the power to choose how best to educate their children, say Greene and Forster.

Source: Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, "A New Model for Special Education," Perspective On Current Issues, June 2003, Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.


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