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The National Coalition for Public Education

VOUCHERS DO NOT HELP SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS OF MILITARY FAMILIES Vouchers for special needs students of military families are simply not necessary given the current multi-faceted services provided for these students. Such vouchers would sacrifice accountability and the civil rights protections for students with special needs without improving the quality of services, student achievement, or parental options.

Public Schools Are Already Meeting the Needs of Military Students – Vouchers Are Unnecessary •

Student Online Achievement Resources (SOAR), first funded in FY 2007 with support from Senators Edward Kennedy and Tom Harkin, is a program run cooperatively by the Military Impacted Schools Association, the Council of State Governments, the Princeton Review, and the University of Northern Iowa. The program has established a system whereby needs of military students are better coordinated today than ever before as students relocate from state to state and school district to school district. As a result, students are more academically prepared today to enter new school districts than at any time previously.

Guidance counselors in public schools serving military children receive ongoing in-service training and professional development, giving them the tools they need to serve children with special needs. The training helps them cope with and assist in meeting the emotional needs of children who have a parent—or in some cases both parents—deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Private school counselors and teachers may not have the same expertise and experience to meet the challenges facing students whose parents are in harm’s way.

In addition, the Department of Defense has initiated the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which has already been adopted by lawmakers in 32 states over the past two years. The Compact ensures that military children who relocate to a different state receive the services they need and experience a smooth transition in such areas as assistance for students with special needs, enrollments, and graduation requirements.

A Voucher Program Would Reduce Impact Aid For All Federally Connected Schools •

A voucher program for students of military families would dilute the dollars provided under the Federal Impact Aid Program, which currently funds federally-connected school districts. Impact Aid provides funds to schools with concentrations of students from military bases because military personnel live and shop on federal property, which is not taxed and therefore does not generate funding for the local schools.

A voucher program for students of military families would reduce the number of military students in the public schools, thereby reducing the percentage of federal students and decreasing the amount of Impact Aid funding. At the same time, even with some students leaving for private schools, public schools would be unable to reduce administrative costs or 1 eliminate teacher positions. Thus vouchers would place a great financial burden on the local community, which would be left to fund the public schools without either state and local taxes or Impact Aid.

The voucher program would not just affect school districts with military bases; it would also reduce overall Impact Aid funding. Fewer students in public schools would, according to the statutorily- required calculations, reduce the overall funding of the program. The result would be a decrease in payments for all federally-connected school districts, including districts serving Bureau of Indian Education schools.

Vouchers For Special Needs Students of Military Families Give Private Schools—Not Parents—a Choice • A private school, unlike a public school, can decline to accept students on the basis of gender, religion, economic background and even disability.

Few private schools in the United States specialize in serving children with disabilities or have the full range of capacity to do so. Rural communities often have no private school options at all, let alone private schools with the capacity to serve students with special needs.

A $7,500 voucher simply would not cover the cost of providing a private school education for a student with a 2 disability. Thus, the voucher program is really only useful to those families who already have the resources to cover the cost of private school. Thus, most military families could not utilize a voucher for students with special needs. 1

KPMG, LLP, Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Final Management Study (Sept. 1999). Therefore, as has happened in Ohio, where private schools accepting taxpayer vouchers charge more than the value of the $20,000 voucher, Oklahoma’s families that are least well-off may be precluded from participating in this program. See Analyzing Autism Vouchers in Ohio, supra note 2,16–18. 2

Updated on June 18, 2010


The National Coalition for Public Education

VOUCHERS DO NOT HELP SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS OF MILITARY FAMILIES Such a Voucher Program Eliminates Protections for and the Rights of Special Needs Students • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides all children in public schools with the federally protected civil right to a free appropriate public education that meets their specific needs in the least restrictive environment possible. Students who accept a voucher, however, would not necessarily receive all of the services that are listed on 3 their individualized educational plan (IEP) and that they are currently receiving in their public school. •

Students who meet the definition of a student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) are provided with an individualized education program (IEP), which is reviewed periodically and revised as needed. In addition, if the public school determines through the evaluation and IEP process that it cannot adequately provide the necessary services for a student with disabilities, then that child may be placed by the IEP team in a private school at no cost to the student’s family. Under IDEA, students whose needs cannot be served by a public school already have the right to attend a private school and retain protections guaranteed by the law. The voucher program, in contrast, places students in private schools with minimal protection.

Private schools do not have to follow the same inclusionary practices for students with disabilities as do public 4 schools, thus isolating students with disabilities from their nondisabled peers. This is contrary to the rights and principles of IDEA, which require public schools to teach students in the least restrictive environment.

Public school teachers of students with special needs must be highly-qualified and licensed by the state as special education teachers, whereas private school teachers do not have to demonstrate such knowledge and skills in the subjects they teach. There are no state minimum requirements for private school special education teachers.

Public schools also must protect the religious liberty rights of students and taxpayers. Private schools, in contrast, could accept taxpayer funded vouchers and both proselytize religious views to students and discriminate in admission and hiring on the basis of religion.

Special Needs Vouchers Do Not Reduce the Cost of Special Education or Public Education 5

Vouchers for special education are costly and in every program adopted in the states across the country, the costs of 6 the programs have increased annually. Indeed, the programs do not decrease the cost of special education.

When voucher students leave the public schools, the costs of running the public schools does not decrease. Instead, taxpayer money that would ordinarily go to public schools now pays for private school vouchers, thus limiting the capacity 7 of public schools to serve the remaining student population.

Currently, Impact Aid covers only 17% of the cost of a special needs education, whereas the funding mandate under IDEA is 40%. Special education programs for military special needs students would be better served if the Impact Aid line item for special education would be increased so that the needs of all military special needs students can be met.

3

Letter from Susan Bowers, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, & Patricia J. Guard, Acting Dir., Office of Special Ed. Programs, U.S. Dep’t of Ed., to John Bowen, Attorney for Pinellas County, Fla., Sch. Bd., www.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/ letters/2001-1/bowen3302001fape.doc. 4 In Ohio’s autism voucher program, for example, ―just 40 out of the 127 providers . . . offered a classroom setting. . . . [and] just over 10 percent of the 127 providers . . . offer a school-like environment for children with the most severe needs.‖ Policy Matters Ohio, Analyzing Autism Vouchers in Ohio 8, 24–25 (Mar. 2008), http://www.policymattersohio.org/pdf/AnalyzingAutismVouchers2008_0319.pdf) Furthermore, ―a large majority of children enrolled in the program are likely being served in an environment that limits their interactions with non-disabled peers‖. Id. 5 For example, in 2006–2007, special education vouchers in Florida cost over $140 million, autism vouchers in Ohio cost $15 million, and special education vouchers in Georgia cost over $5.6 million. National Education Association, ―Voucher Schemes: A Bad IDEA for Students with Disabilities,‖ http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/mf_PB14_SpecEdVouchers.pdf. 6 Id. 7 A 1999 study of Cleveland’s voucher program showed that schools were unable to reduce administrative costs or eliminate teaching positions even when they lost voucher students, because the number of students using vouchers to attend private schools was negligible at each individual school. KPMG, LLP, Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Final Management Study (Sept. 1999). Thus, public schools lost state funding to pay for vouchers without being able to cut overall operating costs. Updated on June 18, 2010

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Written by the National Coalition for Public Education.

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