Parents need to be better informed about the implications of moving their children with disabilities from public to private schools, a new government report concludes.

The number of voucher and other private school choice programs allowing families to use public funds to pay for private schools has more than quadrupled in the last decade.

Even though more than half of these programs are solely for students with disabilities, families are often left in the dark about how moving to a private placement will alter their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.

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The investigative arm of Congress examined documents for all 27 school choice programs operating as of January, conducted interviews with officials at six of the largest programs, reviewed websites for hundreds of participating schools and talked with families and other stakeholders.

GAO found that 83 percent of students with disabilities participating in a private school choice program were either provided with no information about how their rights under IDEA would be impacted by moving to a private setting or they were given information that contained inaccuracies.

And the information is meaningful, investigators noted. Under IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education, but that protection and others go out the window when students enroll at private schools even if it’s paid for through school choice programs.

Nothing in IDEA or in any U.S. Department of Education regulation requires parents to be told about these differing rights under federal special education law, GAO said.

“As more than half of the current private school choice programs are designed specifically for students with disabilities, it is critical that parents have access to quality information about changes in special education rights when they are considering moving their child from public to private school,” the report said.

GAO is urging Congress to mandate that states alert parents to changes in federal special education rights when children are moved to private schools. What’s more, the government watchdog said the Education Department should review and correct inaccurate information that’s being provided by states, a recommendation the agency generally agreed with.

In light of GAO’s report, multiple lawmakers at a confirmation hearing this week asked Johnny Collett who’s nominated to be the next assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services what he would do to ensure that parents of students with disabilities know what rights they give up before partaking in voucher programs.

Collett tiptoed around the topic saying that he would “be very eager and open to the opportunity to talk to the secretary, if confirmed, and to work with whomever has a stake in this to see how best the department should respond to this recommendation.”

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