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Special Education Vouchers.

Jay Greene and Stuart Buck ("The Case for Special Education Vouchers," features, Winter 2010) are correct that some children with disabilities have unique needs that require private schooling. That's why the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows children with disabilities to attend private schools at public expense when their districts cannot provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).

But only a small percentage of children with disabilities have such placements, and not, as Greene and Buck contend, because the law's processes for securing private placements are inadequate, but because the vast majority of children with disabilities can, and do, receive FAPE in the public schools. That's not to gloss over the shortcomings in our special education system, or the difficulties some parents face in obtaining services for their children. But there's no evidence that children with disabilities need additional education options more than any other youngsters in underperforming schools, or that vouchers address the underlying problems in special education. Rather, voucher proponents have seized on this population because they are more sympathetic beneficiaries than poor and minority youngsters. Using children with disabilities to increase public support for vouchers may be smart politics, but it doesn't mean that special education vouchers are good policy.

Policymakers must take steps to expand education options for children with disabilities and make it easier for their parents to access needed services. But special education vouchers are not the best way to do this; they create other, adverse consequences, such as further segregating or perpetuating double standards for children with disabilities and creating perverse incentives for parents and educators.

Other approaches--expanding high-cost/low-incidence pools, improving IDEA's dispute-resolution and placement processes, enhancing charter schools' capacity to serve children with disabilities, and authorizing more charters with specific missions to serve disabled youngsters--have more promise to expand high-quality, accountable options for youngsters with disabilities.

Sara Mead

Senior Research Fellow New America Foundation

Greene and Buck respond:

Sara Mead makes several assertions that are contrary to the findings of our article, but she presents no evidence to substantiate those assertions or to contradict the evidence we presented.

For example, she says that there are so few private placements of special education students "not ... because the law's processes for securing private placements are inadequate, but because the vast majority of children with disabilities can, and do, receive FAPE in the public schools." How does she know this? She doesn't say. Nor does she do anything to refute the evidence we presented that shows the inadequacy of the current private placement system.

It is insufficient simply to contradict claims. One needs to address evidence and Mead fails to do so.


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Publication:Education Next
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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