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Special Education Vouchers Could Cut Costs, Reduce Diagnoses

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Providing vouchers to allow public funds to pay for special education students to attend private schools would save money and yield fewer diagnoses, a new study indicates.

Voucher programs for students with special needs already exist in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Utah. Such programs typically allow students to attend a private school utilizing the public funding that would otherwise have paid for their education in public school.

In looking at Florida’s program, researchers at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that a student living in an area with an average number of private schools participating in the state’s voucher program is 15 percent less likely to be diagnosed with mild learning disabilities. Such disabilities represent a significant portion of the growth in special education students over the last 30 years.

The reason for the decrease in diagnoses, the researchers say, is that school districts tend to seek diagnoses for low performing students in order to place them in special education and receive extra funding. This financial incentive disappears, however, when voucher programs allow the public dollars to follow such a student to a private school.

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Comments (2 Responses)

  1. AllisonHertog says:

    I write from the Florida special needs voucher trenches – I am both an attorney for parents of disabled public school students and a fierce proponent of the McKay Scholarship. I don’t doubt the results of Manhattan Institute study which addresses those students with “marginal” disabilities. But special needs vouchers may provide an even greater benefit (to both schools and parents) for moderately disabled students.

    In my experience, the most severely disabled get expensive special education services, regardless of what the quality of those services may be. But there are few private schools (at least in South Florida) which can meet the needs of those students at a reasonable cost – even if a parent gets a $20,000 McKay Scholarship to private school!

    Because of the way Florida special education funding is structured there is no added incentive for giving special ed. services to the moderately disabled – the schools do not get more money for labeling or serving them than they get for the mild or marginally disabled. Yet, the moderately disabled are more expensive and more difficult to educate.

    If a parent of a moderately disabled student leaves public school with a McKay voucher worth let’s say $10,000/year, that money could put a good dent in a private school tuition which may do a better job educating that child. At the same time, the school district still retains the federal special ed. funds for that child but is no longer responsible for the touch job of educating him or her.

    The bottom line is that while special needs vouchers may not decrease the financial incentive to label students who are moderately disabled, they may result in a win-win situation for both schools and parents.

  2. fdang says:

    It’s been my experience, here in San Diego, that the schools, if not prodded won’t evaluate a child for Special Education assistance. This is a generalized statement for the most part. Special Education laws have been around since the middle of the 1970′s the the laws are still not being followed. Whatever State you go to you will hear the same complaint form parents…limited or no services for their child.

    Regarding diagnosis There is nothing wrong with having a diagnosis. It’s what the professional staff do with the diagnosis that matters. When we become sick and can’t identify what is wrong with us we go to a doctor. The doctor in turn looks at the symptoms we may be displaying and might perform some tests. Through the tests and the evaluation the doctors see a pattern in the symptoms and based that they make a diagnosis. Based on the diagnosis they then develop a treatment plan. What the assessment and the diagnosis in school does is that they will see the type of barriers in learning the child may face and thus goals in their IEP can be developed. If a child has Autism, as my child has, by that diagnosis you will understand that he will have difficulties with expressive/receptive language. He will have problems with organizational skills. He will have odd behaviors and he will have problems integrating the various stimuli that is coming in. Prior to identifying learning disabilities in our children, students who had dyslexia, a diagnosis, were considered stupid or trouble makers, because no one understood what was happening. A graduate school classmate shared with me that during High School he was in a out of the juvenile justice system because he was always running into problems at school due to his dyslexia. Teachers thought that he was stupid because he couldn’t read. When he attempted to read a book the letters were backwards, the words were backward and even sentences were backwards. Teachers thought he was stupid and which affect what he thought about himself, which led him to other problems.

    Any kind of understanding about our children is neither bad or good. It’s what we do with the information that determines if it’s good or bad.

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