Jacob Goodwin: Voucher Schemes Are Failing Students with Disabilities
Writing for The Progressive, New Hampshire’s 2021 History Teacher of the Year Jacob Goodwin points out that voucher laws like the one in effect in New Hampshire are short-changing students with special needs.
New Hampshire’s voucher program has turned out to be an expensive one.
The current voucher expenditures have ballooned to over $20 million, despite the commissioner having promised that the cost of the program would be nearly one-tenth the current taxpayer obligation. Funneling dollars to the voucher program is detrimental to public schools and the students they serve.
This diversion of public money away from public schools came at a time when schools in New Hampshire—and across the country—were having difficulty retaining staff, especially support staff who work with children with special needs. While there are education support professionals making less than $15 per hour, the commissioner has spent lavishly on schools that are not even required to fulfill Individualized Education Plans, which are designed to meet students’ special needs and backed by Federal law. In other words, the ill-devised voucher scheme both makes it more difficult for public districts to fill the positions to help students currently qualifying for legally mandated services and gives that money away to places that can ignore documented disabilities.
According to a study conducted by the National Education Association, salary growth for support staff nationwide has grown over the past ten years to an average just above $35,000. This number, however, represents a decline in real wages when factoring in inflation. Consequently, support professionals today are making $500 less than they were ten years ago.
That comes on top of the federal government’s longstanding failure to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Under-funding needed support for students with learning disabilities has an impact on all students. Support professionals provide a great deal of dignity to children by facilitating small groups, helping them through tricky social and academic situations, and providing students with learning differences with incremental breaks to help them succeed.
These are broad services, but it’s important to recognize that when funding is inadequate, even these measures may disappear. And it is not fair. It is not fair to a child who has a melt down in front of her peers. It is not fair to the children who want to learn but must wait because their classroom is not sufficiently staffed. Public funding for public schools reaffirms the rights of all children.
Students deserve our support, and vouchers aimed at helping the well-to-do at the cost of providing support to the most vulnerable is simply unjustifiable.