Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Editorial: Dismantling Voucher Program would be Detrimental to Students and Broader Education in the Sooner State

“Opposition to state scholarships for children with special needs may have a far-reaching, negative impact,” writes the editorial board in yesterday’s edition of The Oklahoman.  The editorial is citing a court case brought on by special interests against the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program, a small voucher program for students with special needs.

Signed into law by Democratic Governor Henry and named after his daughter, who died as an infant, the program allows students with special needs to attend the private school of their parent’s choice.  After enrolling just 10 students in the program’s first year, 160 students participated during the 2011-12 school year.  Across the nation, 11 private school choice programs specifically designed for children with special needs serve nearly 30,000 students in nine states.

Yesterday’s editorial chastises the two school districts that sued parents participating in the program for trying to dismantle the program and uphold the status quo.  In addition to the scholarship program helping students with special needs access an education that meets their educational needs, the program has larger implications in the state’s education policy.

Under a higher education program, the Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant (OTEG) program, thousands of students from low-income families attend universities in the state—including Oklahoma City University and the University of Tulsa—using the same ideas behind the voucher program: students should attend the school that best meets their educational needs—public or private.  Under both OTEG and the special needs voucher program, students can attend either a secular or non-secular school.  Which brings up  a contradiction seen throughout the education policy world: How can one support pell grants—or scholarships for students in college, but not vouchers—or scholarships for students in grades K-12?

In defending the status quo, opponents to the voucher program argue that private school choice programs violate the separation of church and state and take money away from public schools. 

Yet, as the editorial notes:

“Ironically, if they succeed in court, they may force more funding to be shifted away from K-12 schools and to state colleges.  The Oklahoma Independent Colleges and Universities estimates OTEG has saved state government more than $50 million since 2003.”

Those working so hard to keep the status quo—which in Oklahoma means a system where only 26 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading and 34 percent in math—should think more about children and less about money.

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

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