Friday, February 13, 2015

Special Education Vouchers - IMHO

The allure is definitely there.  So many families are not satisfied with the program offered to their child with special needs.  They are told one way or another that what they are asking for is a "Cadillac" program and the best the school district can offer under present circumstances is more of a "Chevrolet."  (I have personally heard that analogy more than once!)  And they are reminded, ever so gently (or not so gently) that the public schools must educate ALL students, so if their particular child would be given all they are requesting that would certainly take services and programs away from others who are also very deserving.  Most parents are all too aware of this.  They have other children in the system, they have relatives, friends and neighbors who attend the local public schools.  They know budgets are limited. They want good programming for all students.  But they also want this particular child to receive the very best in the way of an education, with all the supports and accommodations that might be needed to make this a reality.

And then perhaps they are offered an alternative - usually in the form of legislation at the state level.  What if we give you a voucher (X amount of dollars) and let you choose whatever program would best meet your child's needs?  Choice is good, alternatives are certainly something desirable, and maybe there really is a program out there offering an attractive option.  What could possibly go wrong?

Let's say the parents visit Perfect Voucher School (PVS) and hear from the administrator that this school is staffed by teachers who really care about each and every student, class size is always kept small, and because we are not part of the public school system we have lots more flexibility in how we teach.  We are free to adapt to the needs of your child, whatever they may be.  We would love to have your child become a part of our school community. How can they refuse?  Why would anyone not jump at such an offer?

So, they take the voucher money and enroll their child in PVS at the beginning of the school year. 
And all seems to be going very well, until sometime in early October, when they are called in for a meeting with that very same administrator, who apologizes for being the bearer of bad news --- BUT it has become abundantly clear that the arrangement is just not working out.  The child is too disruptive, requires too much of the teacher's time and attention, is causing problems with other students; other parents are complaining . . . whatever; it just isn't the right place for them.  Or perhaps, as has happened all too often, sometime in the middle of the school year, PVS suddenly shuts down, usually because of financial difficulties, leaving families scrambling.

At this point, options still exist, but they are limited.  The parents can choose to homeschool their child or they can return to the public school.  The public school will be required to re-enroll the child immediately and continue with plans for that Chevrolet program.  But all those voucher dollars remain with PVS, making funding at the public school even more limited than it had been.

Here is the harsh reality:  Voucher schools operating as for-profit entities outside of the public school system really do have a lot of freedom and flexibility, but at the same time they have NO obligation at all to provide teachers who are trained to work with kids with special needs, NO obligation to follow an IEP that has been developed for a particular student, and rarely, if ever, have the services of specialists such as Occupational, Physical, or Speech/Language Therapists. 

Public schools are obligated to provide a "free and appropriate" education for all, and they are being asked to do this with less and less financial support.  If we fail to provide the resources needed, everyone suffers. 

We have traveled too far along this path already.  Expanding private school vouchers and/or offering "scholarships" to those with special needs, while at the same time starving the public schools,  would spell disaster.  I don't think I am exaggerating.

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