Ordinarily, states that measure the academic performance of public school students assess students with disabilities no differently than students in general education. But exceptions are made, primarily for children with severe cognitive disabilities. And testing accommodations frequently are part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (such as extending the time it takes to take a test).
Those exceptions partly explain why the Thomas B. Fordham Institute excluded special-education voucher programs from a study of how private schools view the regulations that come with various voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Traditional testing tools aren’t always the best measure for students with special needs, but that doesn’t mean no accountability measures should follow special-needs students who leave a public school for a private school with a publicly funded voucher.
Virtually no accountability measures, however, exist in most of the nation’s special-education voucher programs, including the largest such program in the United States, Florida’s McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. And the coalition of schools that oversees the McKay program appears to want to keep it that way—and it’s wrong to do so.
The McKay Coalition surveyed its own Florida schools after Fordham published School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring, which surveyed private schools in communities served by four prominent voucher programs in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Fordham report found that only 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to opt out. Regulations that restrict student admissions
The Georgia Senate recently took an incremental step toward responsible and accountable private school choice by unanimously passing a bill that shines more sunlight upon the Peach State’s embattled tax-credit-scholarship program. If the House concurs, then parents and taxpayers will have more information about the students and the scholarship groups that participate—a good thing, to be sure.
Picture by Santa Catalina School
But Senate Bill 243 doesn’t go far enough. Yes, it requires the nonprofit groups that administer the scholarships to disclose the number of students they serve and the amount of tax-credited donations that they receive. Well worth making public—but it reveals nothing about the program’s educational value.
Why not also pull back the curtain on student performance? Most of the school-voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist in other states are designed to show the public at least how they’re performing overall in terms of student achievement. For example, private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administer a standardized test to their scholarship students and report the results to an independent analyst, who then studies the program’s effectiveness and reports to the legislature.
For a quartet of reasons, Georgia should at least do something similar.
1. Parents, policymakers, educators, and the taxpaying public deserve to compare the gains that students
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.
Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.
The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.
In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have suffered “irreparable harm” without the restraining order (Judge Price’s words) was ludicrous.
Now that the bill is law, Bentley and others who supported the tax credit can expect a lawsuit. And families whose children are zoned to a failing public school and who
Farce has been standard fare in litigation over school choice since the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris upholding the constitutionality of vouchers. At the time of Zelman, chief counsel for the National Education Association (NEA) said the organization would rely on “Mickey-Mouse provisions” in state constitutions to attack choice programs. No claim was too ridiculous. But farce doesn’t seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.
Farce does not seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.
Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at a private school. The bill passed by 2-1 margins in both houses of the Republican-controlled legislature. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape miserably failing schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed, the AEA decided to lawyer up before it even reached the governor’s desk.
Initially, the act was called the School Flexibility Act and did not include tax credits. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the act, the conference committee added
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
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