Vouchers and Special Education

Opinion piece inThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Maureen Downey

Students Lose Federal Protections Under Special Ed Voucher


Full disclosure- we hate vouchers! 😡

It’s a slippery slope when voucher proponents seek to dissect different student categories under public education funding to channel/direct funding for specific areas.  And while this opinion piece by Maureen Downey is about legislation in Georgia to “fund special education”, don’t be fooled into thinking the same thing couldn’t happen here and isn’t happening in other states, too.

Two important things you need to understand as you read the article:

“…a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.

“The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 7.5 million (as of school year 2018-19) eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

“Infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.”

In Colorado, 2015-16 the share of funding for special education was:

  • Local/District Funding:  62%
  • State Funding:  21.2%
  • Federal Funding:  16.8%
  • “…the federal government committed to fund 40% of the costs for serving students with disabilities, which would be considered fully funding the implementation of IDEA…Congress was pre-authorized to fund the full 40%, in the fiscal year 2020, the federal government only funded 13% which left states and school districts to cover these excess costs …”

Ask any parent of a child with disabilities and they will tell you of the struggles they face daily to get services (often, not even adequate services) for their child.

“Why are public schools struggling to meet the needs of students with disabilities? Well, as with most issues in education, it has to do with funding. Now, there are approximately 7 million students receiving special education services in the United States, all with IEPs outlining the specific services and supports tailored to each specific student to help them succeed. That level of support creates quite a cost, so as a stipulation of the passage of IDEA the federal government committed to fund 40% of the costs for serving students with disabilities, which would be considered fully funding the implementation of IDEA.”  (the federal government only funded 13% in FY2020)

The slight-of-hand with this Georgia legislation – or any legislation that presents itself as providing the same (or better) services for special education students/students with disabilities – is that parents don’t always realize when they move to private schools and away from public schools, those private schools are not required to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for a child with disabilities.   https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html

Henceforth, these families would end up waiving their “rights and protections under IDEA to attend private school.”  And –

“…would forgo their child’s right to being educated in the least restrictive environment, or the right to an IEP specific to their child’s needs and abilities. Beyond the major known components of IDEA are other rights that would be waived including: (a) the right to the stay-put provision in reference to as education placement issues, (b) extended school year services, (c) transition planning services, (d) the right to receive and education until the age of 22 if the student has not accumulated enough credits for graduation by their senior school year, and (d) all of the parent rights outlined in IDEA.”

As always, when something looks too good to be true…

Sadly, this Georgia legislation preys upon the vulnerable.  Families of children with disabilities who may often feel a sense of hopelessness, feeling like they have exhausted all avenues for resources for their child.  Typical of voucher proponents, they look to capitalize on a weakness in the system created by starving schools of funds over many, many years.

COVID-19 has created even more opportunities for voucher proponents. In Colorado we are seeing (what may be well intended) legislation that cracks the door to vouchers – to fund “enrichment” programs, tutors, 5th day services for kids on 4 day school weeks – attempting to appeal to frustrated parents who have never been in this kind of environment before. This legislation is being funded by grants, gifts, and scholarships with no designated dollar figures attached.

We need to bite the bullet and fund our public schools so all of our 900,000+/- public school students get the kind of education they truly deserve –  with sustainable funds that are equal, equitable and don’t take funding from one group of students to fund others. 


“They say, if you want to know what a community values, look at how its children are treated.  If you want a sense of what a community hopes for the future, look at how it values its schools.”  Colorado Education Network