If Mitt Romney's proposed voucher plan for students with disabilities is ever enacted, would it be the great equalizer between low-income parents of children with special needs and their respective wealthy counterparts?
Yes, according to this guest blog post from The Atlantic.
The author, Dr. Manhattan (presumably not his real name, and the only identification the blog provides), a lawyer in New York City who represents, among others, clients in the investment management industry, notes that the way the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act works now, there's already a system of vouchers built in:
Schools that believe they can't provide the right educational services and environment a student needs can choose to send that student to a private school, at the public school's expense. It's called private placement.
Manhattan describes his own experience with this form of education:
My family has lived this reality for many years. We have a severely autistic son who has attended private schools which offer intensive behavioral therapy ("Applied Behavior Analysis" or "ABA," which is the only therapeutic methodology for which much evidence of effectiveness exists) with a student-teacher ratio of 1:1, and has also been receiving extensive ABA and other related services after school. Those schools and related services have enabled our son to make what progress he has been able to achieve. They are also necessarily and extremely expensive. But every single year, we have to "sue" NYC (technically it's not a lawsuit in a court but an impartial hearing as provided under IDEA, but it functions in very similar fashion) to cover the costs of such a school and services when they invariably recommend services far below what is necessary for our son to achieve any educational benefit. We have never lost one of our "suits" yet against NYC, but in the meantime we are required to front the cost of our son's school and services every year and seek eventual reimbursement from NYC. Very, very few families have the financial resources to do so. (And while we have enough resources to front the costs pending reimbursement, we are not nearly rich enough to bear the full costs of our son's school and services&MDASH; those can exceed $170K per year.) Those that do not either have to move or make do with whatever the system offers, which is often far, far below what is necessary.
Manhattan goes on to say that for Romney's plan to work, state and local special education dollars would also have to become portable, something I can't imagine every state and school board agreeing to.
Many special education advocates oppose vouchers, however, because unlike private placements, students lose their protections under federal law—the very law that would be paying for their private schooling under Romney's proposal—IDEA.