Special education has become the new wedge for advocates of school choice—private school vouchers, charter schools, and other options for public school students. Some school-choice proponents told me that students with disabilities inspire sympathy, and state lawmakers wouldn't stand in the way of their getting these additional opportunities.
The big risk for parents who choose vouchers is that they'll lose their federal rights to be involved in their child's education as provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
But parents I spoke to who chose to use vouchers to send their children to private school, or chose not to though they had the opportunity, both say their choice was the best for their children.
For example, Jeff and Rebecca Locke send their daughter, Kasey, to Chrysalis Academy in Tempe, Ariz. Kasey, 7, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. When Arizona this year started offering scholarships for students with disabilities to attend private schools (or pay for tutoring, therapy, or save the money for college), they signed up. At $27,000 a year, tuition at Chrysalis is something the family couldn't afford otherwise.
Kasey had a good year in kindergarten, her parents said, but they knew Chrysalis could do better.
"Our experience with the people in the public school was a good one," Jeff Locke said. But he and his wife wanted more exposure to Applied Behavior Analysis, a therapy for autism, than Kasey was getting. The public schools, "have to provide for everyone, so they kind of shoot down the middle."
Already, the Lockes say Kasey is thriving.
"She can follow directions now a little better," including some with multiple steps, Rebecca Locke said. "'Take off your shoes and put them in the closet. Wash your hands and get your paints'," she said. "Before, there was no way."
Eventually, the Lockes hope, Kasey's time in private school will prepare her for public school.
On the other hand, Cheryl Bowshier of Ohio enrolls her youngest son in public school. Dallas, 16, has achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Her three older sons went to private school, and they tried to do the same for Dallas when he was younger. But her family couldn't keep up with the private school costs.
Although Ohio offers two private school voucher programs, Ms. Bowshier, who works for School Choice Ohio, has no intention of using one for Dallas. He's doing well, and she'd advise the same thing for other parents whose children with special needs are thriving in their public schools.
"It really depends on the best thing for your child," she said.