Friday, December 12, 2008

Vouchers to Where?

Education Weekly reported that a voucher program for special education students failed to pass the state legislature this week. Few states have voucher programs for special education students. With good reason. 
Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (ADA) already requires schools to provide free and appropriate public education for students (often called FAPE in legal speak). If districts do not have such programs, they are required to create them, or pay for education in an appropriate setting. There is no need for a voucher program. In fact, the voucher program may do more harm than good for special education students, in much the same way that it may for general education students. 
Most settings outside of public schools are Non-Public Schools or agencies, and receive federal funds and are therefore subject to the regulation under IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Private schools often do not receive federal funds and therefore are not subject to these regulations-- in short, students may lose some of their constitutional protections in these settings. 
Similarly, the voucher could release the school district from its responsibilities to follow the student in alternative placements (currently a responsibility for students in Non-Public School placements under IDEA) and provide related services such as speech therapy. This is currently the case under California law, if parents choose to remove a student from public schools without the school's agreement to place them voluntarily in a private school setting, the school district is released from its responsibility to provide services to the student.  If the voucher does not cover all the students needs, will the district ensure those are met?
And which students are going to be able to use these vouchers? Very, very few private schools are able to serve students with special needs. Most do not have teachers certified in special education or aides for students. Since they do not receive federal funding, they do not even have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those that do are almost always Non-Public Schools that serve special education students and do not require vouchers. So, as with regular education students, the voucher system will allow the highest performing students to attend private academies at public expense, drain much needed funds from a system already nearly abandoned by the wealthy and leave behind the neediest students with less funding and fewer resources. 
Vouchers are another appeal to communities-- to us-- to turn our backs on the greatest public good ever imagined-- free education available to each and every citizen-- and create separate and unequal education systems that reinforce our deepening class divide. Vouchers are a cynical tool to further undermine public education by transferring public funds to private businesses.
Public schools are ours. They were built by our parents and grandparents and they belong to us, our children and our grandchildren as an inheritance and a legacy. Once, our schools were the best in the world. They can be again if we want them to. We own the properties. The employees work for us. Go to your local Board meetings. Join your PTA. Take back the schools and invest in your children, your community and your future.   Vouchers will lead our country no where.