Indiana AG sets a precedent on school choice others should follow

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller recently published an opinion that should be good news for school-choice advocates who favor customized education for low-income students. He wrote this week that students opting for the state’s voucher program should also be allowed to receive special-education services, if eligible, at their local public school.

Photo from the Associated Press

This undoubtedly would anger two camps of school-choice opponents: 1) those who believe that private schools accepting voucher-bearing students must offer the same special-education services found at traditional public schools and 2) those who believe that once students leave the public school system, they give up everything it has to offer.

Of course, most choice opponents occupy both camps, and that goes for Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who this summer asked the attorney general a loaded question: Must a private school participating in the state’s voucher program offer special-education services to eligible students who qualify for both a voucher and a new special-education grant the state legislature approved this year?

Zoeller said no, writing in his opinion that private schools might refuse voucher students altogether if they have to administer special-education services when they lack the capacity to do so. The legislature would have wanted to place more decision-making power in the hands of parents, even if that meant deciding to get a private education via school vouchers while still receiving special-education services at a public school (the public school, in this case, would get the special-education grant).

“The legislative intent was to provide the parents of children with disabilities more choices, not fewer,” Zoeller wrote.

The general public shouldn’t be opposed to such customization. The recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll showed that 90 percent of respondents favor giving special-needs homeschooled children access to public education services. It’s not a stretch to provide that same level of service to low-income kids who qualify for private school vouchers

That’s why this opinion from Indiana, while not legally binding, is such an important statement on parent power in education. Parents generally want more power, and lawmakers are willing to provide it, even if that means blurring the lines that traditionally separate public and private education. It’s a shame that more state executives aren’t willing to assert this.

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