Special Education Vouchers or Education Saving Accounts are not the Solution
Vouchers Stigmatize and Isolate Special Education Students
The Individuals with Education Act (I.D.E.A.) was created to bring children with special needs into the public schools. Prior to I.D.E.A., many children with disabilities were “warehoused” in private institutions and refused services in public schools. The reason that vouchers should be abhorrent to parents is that vouchers present the opportunity for lawmakers to take us back to a time when children with special needs did not have the opportunity to participate in public school programs and were often stigmatized and isolated from their non-disabled peers.
The core elements of special education include individualized education plans designed to meet the unique needs of eligible students with diagnosed special needs. Those services must be provided in the least restrictive environment and be calculated to provide a free and appropriate public education. Students with special needs can be served in many educational environments from general education with modifications and/or accommodations to self-contained classes for students with more severely disabilities. Class size should be appropriate for the students’ needs.
Very often Districts balance their budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable children. Districts often combine classes of students with special needs and “stuff” as many as possible in a classroom in order to save money. When that happens, the teachers, even with several aides, cannot teach. They become babysitters. Income earned from assessing these students and providing services is often reimbursed by Medicare which then goes into the general fund. Transition planning is often poor and unrealistic. In so many ways, the State of Texas deprives these children of educational opportunities.
Texas education system is failing many children with disabilities leaving our future workforce unable to compete in an advanced economy. Many children are left behind to become a burden on society. Unfortunately, far too many end up in jail. In the past fifteen years, the Texas Education Agency has been pressured by the Texas legislature to create an 8.5% artificial and illegal cap on special education further harming our children with special needs.
Many parents are rightfully upset and would like to take matters into their hands and look for other ways to educate their children--vouchers, private schools, parochial schools, home school, and today “Education savings accounts” They are seeking band-aide solutions to public school discrimination against our children. The solutions lie in complying with the law and helping our children with special needs meet their potential for their own good and for that of society. Providing school vouchers will not fix the problem. Only the well-off will be able to provide transportation for their child to a private school and pay the tuition. And, when the State provides are blurring the lines between separation of church and state.
Economic segregation of our school districts has added to the problems. Too many school districts have enabled the development of gated communities and urban sprawl leading to neo-tribalism. The illusion of “local control” based on a school funding system dependent on property taxes is the heart of the problem. The wealthier parents with bigger houses who pay more taxes receive the better education for their children with special needs. The working class, less affluent families are generally stuck with cramped classrooms without basic services or resources. In either case, whether the families are wealthy or not, the quality of the education is dependent upon the resources that the district or school want to invest in the future of their students. As a direct result of the willingness of the district/school to properly educate students with special needs, the quality of education depends on the district/school leadership. To improve the system, parental involvement is essential. Even the less wealthy school districts tend to do better if the families stay involved. Unfortunately, that involvement is not often welcome.
Parents are discouraged from providing input on their children’s education when the parents should be the foundation of local control. Public schools are top heavy on administration. School personnel are not supportive of one another. Everyone is afraid of the consequences of any action they take so that school personnel lack the ability to think creatively and to try new methods. Plus, the teaching and the curriculum are geared toward assessment. Add to these issues that children with disabilities are placed almost exclusively in underfunded programs or they are placed in general education classes without appropriate supports.
While there are times when children with disabilities must be placed in a private school or institution, the goal should be to incorporate these children into the public schools and then into society. In doing so, we improve the quality of life for children with special needs while encouraging these students to become citizens who will contribute to the growth of our nation.
Dating back to the founding of our nation, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson purported that educations was the heart of democracy. “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it,” wrote Adams. “There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”
What historically has made the United States an economic success, the envy of the world, has been our public education system. 4% of the world’s population has produced 30% of the planets’ GDP. In order to keep our competitive edge, we must teach ALL of our children to become productive citizens. And, to that end, parental involvement is the most important ingredient.
Karen Dalglish Seal, Attorney, 202 East Park Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78212, 210-226-8101
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