Legislative proposals to subsidize private special education services offer nothing more than false promises to Texas families
Special Needs Vouchers Are an Abdication of the Legislature’s Responsibility to Meet the Needs of ALL Students with Disabilities
Vouchers are not a research-based or proven solution for the real issues faced by students with disabilities and their families. Most communities do not have high-quality private schools with certified educators and inclusive settings as guaranteed in Texas public schools. The result could be resegregation of students with disabilities and exposing students to lower quality services with no legal protections.
“Far too many students are being forced to relinquish important civil rights in order to access public education funds. A State should not be able to use “choice” to skirt their responsibility to provide a free, appropriate public education [to students with disabilities]…”
— Denise Marshall, Executive Director, Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates (COPAA)
Special Needs Vouchers are a Means to a Political End — “Minimizing Resistance” to Broader Voucher Programs
Across the country, special needs vouchers have been used as a political ploy to open the door for broader voucher programs. Reporting on key takeaways from their legislator focus groups on voucher promotion, Bellwether Research & Consulting’s memo to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice describes the national strategy:
“[Voucher] legislation that starts small, focused on special needs students, is a model that seems to work as it minimizes resistance. Legislators in states that don’t have [vouchers] think opening up the option to special needs students is the way to start. Those who have already done this are now looking for ways to widen the pool of eligible students.” [emphasis added]
Special Needs Vouchers Undermine the Rights of Texas Students and Families
For years, families with children in special education programs have fought for the rights to inclusive settings, trained teachers, and legal protections. Special needs vouchers would wipe out these protections, along with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its guarantee to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that do not apply in private settings. This includes the essential right to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), requiring public school districts to tailor a student’s education to their unique needs.
Special Needs Vouchers Are Insufficient to Cover the Cost of Specialized Services
Proposed voucher amounts to families of students with special needs are insufficient to cover the cost of highly specialized services that many students require. Evidence from Arizona suggests these programs primarily benefit wealthier families who can further subsidize tuition costs. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), economists have expressed concern that these vouchers incentivize the delivery of low-quality services to students with less severe disabilities, while excluding students with more severe needs.