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Louisiana To Start Voucher Program For Students With Disabilities

Here's a trend that seems to be gathering some speed: Louisiana will start a two-year trial voucher program that will help students with certain disabilities pay for private school. The program will start in the 2011-12 school year. From an article in the Baton Rouge Advocate:

The measure is designed to aid families who are not satisfied with the help their children are getting in public schools, state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the new law, said Monday.

"Some of the school systems just don't have the resources to help these children," Foil said.

The vouchers apply to children with autism, dyslexia, mental disability, an emotional disturbance, developmental delays and learning disabilities....

....The top amount that Baton Rouge families could qualify for would be about $2,000 per year, Foil said.

While yearly tuition at some schools that aid such children can be $8,000, the state assistance "could definitely bridge the gap," he said.

Oklahoma also recently approved a voucher program that is starting in the fall.

Louisiana has created a much more restrictive list of qualifications for this voucher pilot program, compared to other states that have special education vouchers. The program only applies for now to parishes that have populations of over 190,000 people: Orleans parish (New Orleans is the parish seat), Jefferson (Gretna), East Baton Rouge (Baton Rouge,) Caddo (Shreveport), St. Tammany (Covington) and Lafayette (the parish seat is also named Lafayette.)

The program is also available only for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, and gifted and talented students are not eligible, so no "twice-exceptional" children need apply. The state is also choosing not to provide vouchers for the full range of disabilities covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by excluding blind students or deaf students.

In the Advocate article, the state legislator who pushed the bill says that the program is narrowly focused. But with programs now approved in six states, I wonder if we're seeing a renewed surge of energy among voucher supporters. Is it harder for voucher opponents to muster their forces when the vouchers are intended for students with special educational needs?

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