No Best Choice for Disabled Students in Voucher States

Parents of students with disabilities living in voucher states may find themselves unpleasantly surprised at the limited choices they have for their child's education.

Under IDEA, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, public schools across the U.S. are required to provide accommodations to those who need them to access one of our most important rights, the right a free and equal education. For some, those accommodations are aides or interpreters. They can be something as simple as a written copy of the day’s notes for those who have trouble interpreting verbal and visual lessons, or as intensive as a speech therapist. These are free to students, being instead included in the schools’ budgets.

These accommodations are so important to so many. So why do some states want to ensure that those who need them may have to sacrifice opportunities to keep them?

In Louisiana, there is a voucher program to let students in underperforming public school districts apply public dollars towards tuition at a private school, allowing greater choice to medium and low-income families. But for students with disabilities those vouchers come with an often-invisible caveat. Private schools are not required to provide any academic accommodations.

This is a barrier to students with many kinds of disabilities. Since vouchers are only available to students in public schools that are performing at a “C” or lower by state standards, this means that students in need of accommodations will be left in the worst schools.

Louisiana does have a separate voucher program for children with disabilities, but it is far from equal. Only particular disabilities are covered, and only in very large school districts. Private schools may opt in for only the disabilities they choose to serve, under that program. In all of Louisiana, only six private schools participate.

Louisiana is not the only state that allows this deliberate exclusion. Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all have similar exceptions in their laws, ensuring that top-quality education is out of reach to the poor and disabled.

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