The Case for Special Education Vouchers

Mickey Muldoon

Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene
Education Next

It’s hard to tell right now whether vouchers have a future in the nation’s capital, but Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene are nonetheless bullish on the outlook for vouchers, at least when it comes to serving special education students. In this new Education Next piece, they make the case that special education vouchers are effective, politically palatable, and built on the firm legal basis of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the well-liked federal spending channel for special-ed students. The key insight is that IDEA already permits reimbursement for kids with disabilities to attend private schools, but only through a procedural gauntlet that is prohibitively costly: It requires lawyers, appeals, and lots of time and ultimately, most claims are rejected. Direct voucher programs (four states currently have them), though, put the onus on parents to determine whether private schools provide an “appropriate education” for their kids—and provide money up front. According to Buck and Greene, the McKay special-ed voucher program in Florida, for example, gives students options that are, on average, cheaper for the taxpayer and better for students and parents; in addition, it also creates a “rising tide” effect, whereby public schools actually improve their services for fear of losing funding. But mightn’t this pressure public schools to under-diagnose students with disabilities? And are there enough private school spots to fill the apparent demand for McKay-style vouchers? While McKay and other programs benefit from a low profile, major expansion would surely bring these sticky issues to the surface. Read it here.