Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Truth About School Vouchers and Children with Special Needs

People who want to prevent the creation, growth, and expansion of school choice programs have but three effective weapons on their side: money, manpower, and mythology.

Special interests spend time and money to disseminate innuendo about school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit initiatives, throwing as many rumors at legislators until they identify a myth so lethal that it torpedoes school choice legislation.

No mistruth is as pernicious, however, as the one that is cropping up with regularity this year: that school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit programs somehow don't help children with disabilities. It's an allegation fraught with emotion, but filled with error.

Here's the truth: school voucher programs for students with disabilities have flourished in recent years—and with bipartisan support.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah offer scholarships to children with special learning needs. In total, these programs allow 25,000 children access to private schools—educational institutions they otherwise would have been unable to attend.

In fact, 35 percent of the existing school voucher (and scholarship tax credit) programs in America are specifically designed for children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or other special needs classifications.

And, according to a press release issued today by the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice, 16 states are considering special needs scholarship legislation during the 2011 legislative session. This is huge!

In Wisconsin, special needs scholarship legislation is receiving broad support, as evidenced by this video (below) and on this website:

Nationally, more than $200 million is being spent this year for publicly-funded private school choice programs for children with disabilities. All of the data, including rigorous research and academic comparison studies, indicates that these programs work. One researcher even found that Florida's special needs scholarship program benefits nearby public schools—thanks to healthy, innovation-fueled competition.

But if you want to really know what people think about school vouchers for children with special needs, just ask a parent.

As one parent of a student who receives a special needs scholarship in Utah wrote, "One of my sons was so verbally abused in public school that he became physically sick each morning at the thought of going to school….[School choice] enables my son to attend a school where he can reach his full potential. don't feel I exaggerate when I say that [this program] gave him back his life."

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, ARC

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