Over at Edpresso they’re pretty much constantly bonkers about the anti-voucher editorials from the Palm Beach Post. But the PBP really lost me when on Saturday they quasi-embraced what I consider the worst of all three Florida private school choice programs, the McKay special education vouchers. In fact, the program has two serious flaws. First, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act includes explicit provisions for students with exceptional needs that the public schools cannot meet. And many (in real numbers not percentage terms) special education students attend private schools at public expense as a result (pdf). Second, as Sara Mead and I pointed out in a paper several years ago, offering vouchers for special education introduces a perverse incentive for parents to have their children identified for special education. We found, and last I looked the data continued to show, children who did not have “exceptional” disabilities but rather more amorphous issues like learning disabilities (pdf) were disproportionately represented in the program when the logic of the program is that it should be serving more severely disabled students.
Isolating one kind of students for vouchers based on a characteristic that can be somewhat murky is not good policy. Instead, special education should be incorporated into any kind of choice scheme to make sure those children are included. I assume the PBP ed board figured that spec ed kids need all the help they can get so this must be OK at least in theory. Look for a new ES analysis of the McKay Program from Joe Williams later this year.