More McKay…It’s Friday, And That Can Only Mean More Special Education Voucher Action!

Really, who can get enough McKay voucher action? As Matt Ladner has noted, he and I are attempting to defy type and show that a reasoned debate about school vouchers is indeed possible. I criticized the McKay program, Matt responded to that post, I responded to him, and now he’s responded again over at Edspresso, a low-class joint he frequents from time to time. Matt has a technical advantage here because he’s able to do annotated-style responses and I don’t know how to do that, but I will respond to several points here that are not addressed in the earlier back and forth.

First, poor Rawls has been dragged into this probably because I was not clear enough. I think that a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” is arguable in the case of McKay-style spec ed-only vouchers, I wasn’t addressing vouchers overall, that’s another debate. Second, Matt says that children with less-severe disabilities are as likely or even more likely to need alternatives to the pubic schools as other students since they can be overlooked. That’s a debatable point but here’s one data point: When Progressive Policy Institute, Fordham Foundation, and Public Agenda surveyed special education parents (pdf) we found that parents of students with more severe disabilities were more likely to consider suing their school district. Ladner seems to be saying that parents need McKay because they’re not empowered in the current system. But accepting that point is an argument for fixing a problem in IDEA, not creating vouchers. I’ve never seen the McKay crowd working to ensure that the parental support components of IDEA are funded… And in fact, that’s the problem with Ladner’s other points, for instance about the anecdote he offers about a student poorly served through their IEP; they point to possible programmatic flaws but voucher supporters then jump to the conclusion that the only solution is vouchers. It’s CATO-like in its certainty that these problems can’t be fixed within the program but only through vouchers. Consequently, I’m not biting on Matt’s bait of picking particular disabilities to see which ones mean that a “free and appropriate public education” must mean a private setting either. It’s mostly case-by-case issue and while the special education policy can certainly be improved, the policy and the case law offer pretty good rules of the road as these things go. Introducing a new set of perverse incentives for school districts and parents may help advance the voucher issue but it’s lousy policy for special education.

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