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Vouchers Halted in Arizona


From the East Valley Tribune comes this story about the Arizona state appeals court putting a halt to a two-year-old voucher program for students with disabilities, and students in foster care.

More than 350 schoolchildren in Arizona might be forced to leave their schools this fall, when the state will stop its two-year-old practice of paying for them to attend private schools.

The decision to stop payments came as a result of a recent state appeals court ruling that two voucher programs - one for students with disabilities and one for those in the state's foster care system - are unconstitutional.

In the May ruling, the judge said the programs violate a provision in the state's constitution barring use of tax dollars to benefit private or sectarian schools.

The ruling came in May, but the state superintendent said recently that he's not making any more payments to schools unless the court finding is overturned.

The decision is a reversal in a popular movement for vouchers for students with special needs, which I wrote about early last year. (Though I can understand the value of special schools for students with disabilities, I'm not sure I understand what needs students in foster care have that cannot be met in public schools. I'm open to learning more about that.)

The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute has a brief editorial criticizing the court's decision and outlining their plans to appeal.

Just as an aside, I had a chance to hear a presentation by Matthew Ladner, the author of that Goldwater Institute editorial, when I was covering another story. He's an interesting guy; I remember being intrigued by his straightforward assessment of the racial imbalance he sees in special education, based on research he conducted in Arizona. His 2003 report on that topic can be found here.


My personal beliefs tend to heavily support public education (although with age and experiences this is fraying a bit at the edges) and very big time into serving kids within the regular population when at all possible.

That said, I think the issue, from the parent point of view is less whether the public schools CAN meet needs than whether they do. I have probably stuck more closely to my public education beliefs than many--but there are times when I really have to question whether my children have suffered--and in the end I have had some family experience with a very good charter.

There are others better equipped than I to write about the value of vouchers for kids on the autism spectrum. Regarding kids in foster care--no, I don't agree with segregating them--they don't need yet another big sign saying "there's something wrong with you." But--I understand. Kids with non-standard families are routinely considered less then (think how easily we count up the single parent families when accounting for the challenges the schools face). Kids who have been removed already believe that somehow they deserved it. Schools can be very insensitive. Even adoption from birth families can tell about how they have to explain EVERY year about the cautions to think about how they present the "family tree" assignment.

I understand the sensitivities that may arise when teaching a student who is in foster care. I'm just not sure I understand what a private/charter school may do for them, especially because I have a view (admittedly outdated, perhaps) of private schools having even more "standard" families. Is that going to make a child in foster care feel better and more accepted? Is that school, which probably only has a handful of voucher students, if that, going to treat that foster kid any better? I just don't know.

It's just that in voucher discussions, I occasionally hear homeless children and children in foster care included with students with disabilities as if they all have the same need for special INSTRUCTION. It would seem they all need caring teachers and administrators, but only a child with disabilities might need *instruction* in a "non-standard" way (for instance, a blind child learning Braille, a child with dyslexia getting accommodations, etc.)

This is a little off my beat expertise, though, which is why I'm open to other thoughts on the issue....

As for whether vouchers are a good solution for students with disabilities, I'm neutral on the issue, as any good reporter should be! :-) I also don't have a child with disabilities, so my own perspective is even more immaterial. But I do wonder how things will ultimately turn out in Arizona. They've been having problems with their Pappas schools for homeless kids, too.

Well--I just read back through the article. I had assumed that they were talking about a specialized school for foster kids--like some of the specialized voucher schools for kids with autism. As I reread, I don't see any such thing, or any information about what is being funded--other than "private school" education. But I can envision some reasons that families would seek out such a thing. One would be to keep a foster child in the same school environment as the biological kids in a family--whether parochial, or whatever. But I also know that foster/adoptive kids--as a group--are more likely than the biological population to come with lots of labels. At one point in my state an adoptive family could access post-adoption subsidy for special education in a private setting. Now the legislature has since determined that the state is already paying for special ed services, so this is no longer allowable. But while it was, I do know families that were able to utilize it to the benefit of their kids.

I would like to comment on my adoptive children that were previously foster children. Yes, public schools may provide for thier basic needs of education, but these special need kids do not always fit the public school mold. Many of these kids, such as those addicted to drugs at birth, need a different shool environment. My kids attend Montessouri school and thrive in this environment. They cannot emotionally handle the stimulation of larger class sizes, but they do well in the Montessouri environment. This voucher program is not necessarily needed by all foster children, but it gives foster and adoptive parents more options for education, and these kids deserve to be in an environment they can thrive in whether it is public or private school.In addition, my last foster child attended public school while his 2 adopted siblings attended private montessouri school.Why can't these kids have more teaching styles available? Why aren't we giving foster kids more benfits rather than taking them away? It is also more cost effective in some instances, public school will only tolerate negative behavior so long then they refer difficult children to special state funded programs that cost alot more than if they paid for private school to begin with. In addition, due to over-stimulation and/or defiant behavior many of these kids may need Occupational Therapy or after school respite services. helping these children succeed should be more important than a policy that will not fund private schools.

Florida also found vouchers unconstitutional. Florida so poorly funds public education that it had to apply for a waiver as it failed to meet criteria for stimulus money. Watch out for more attempts to divert money from the public schools into the private sector.

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