March 26, 2023

David DeMatthews and Alexandra Aylward: Voucher bill would subsidize taxpayer-funded bias against kids with disabilities

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In the Dallas Morning News, a reminder that vouchers create two separate and unequal school systems, and the Texas proposal would do the same.

Buried in the text of proposed Texas Senate Bill 176 is a clause that would create taxpayer-funded discrimination: “A child with a disability attending a private school may not receive the services a child with a disability attending a public school is entitled to receive under federal and state law.”

In other words, the bill declares that private schools receiving publicly-funded vouchers would not have to adapt curriculum, assessments or performance standards to enable access to potential voucher users, including students with disabilities.

There is no requirement for accountability, no oversight requiring qualified special ed teachers.

SB 176 would provide a $10,000 voucher per child annually. Without any accountability or financial incentive, most private schools will deny admission to the costliest students with disabilities. Voucher schemes in other states have done exactly that — create two separate and unequal taxpayer-funded education systems.

We’ve already seen how this works

In Arizona, the family of James, a 15-year-old student with autism, received a $40,000 voucher. Over a two-year period, James was denied admission to every private school in his city. Predictably, about 80% of families using Arizona’s expanded voucher system already had their children in private schools, according to the Arizona Department of Education, and were disproportionately wealthy.

Texas cam do better.

Our tax dollars are better spent improving special education in public schools, which should include addressing the state’s 20-year-long special-education and related service provider shortagea 2,752-1 student-to-school-psychologist ratio, and a backlog of special-education identification requests made by parents and teachers. These remedies, unlike vouchers, will ensure the state meets its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality public education to all its students, including those with disabilities.

Worth noting that this op-ed only addresses the ability of voucher schools to discriminate against students with special needs, and not voucher schools’ ability to refuse students based on religious grounds or LGBTQ status.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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