Special ed vouchers cut disability diagnoses

Public schools identify fewer students as disabled if disability qualifies kids for a  voucher to attend another school, concludes a Jay Greene-Marcus Winters’ study released by the Manhattan Institute.

. . . the vouchers check public schools’ financial incentives to identify more students as disabled. Public schools may get additional subsidies when they shift more students into special education, but if they then make students eligible for special education vouchers, they risk having those students walk out the door with all of their funding.

“Nearly 1 in 7 students nationwide is now classified as having a disability,” Greene writes on his blog.  The 63 percent increase isn’t caused by a plague of disabling illnesses. It’s about the money.

A previous study found states that pay more for each student classified as disabled showed much higher rates of growth in special education enrollment than states that changed funding formulas to end financial incentives for identifying children as disabled.

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  1. You mean money is an incentive? Who knew?!!!

  2. I find this odd. Where I live (Illinois), special ed students are a money drain for school districts.

  3. I write from the Florida special needs voucher trenches – I am both an attorney for parents of disabled public school students and a fierce proponent of the McKay Scholarship. I don’t doubt the results of Greene and Winters’ study which addresses those students with “marginal” disabilities. But special needs vouchers may provide an even greater benefit (to both schools and parents) for moderately disabled students.
    In my experience, the most severely disabled get expensive special education services, regardless of what the quality of those services may be. But there are few private schools (at least in South Florida) which can meet the needs of those students at a reasonable cost – even if a parent gets the maximum allowable McKay Scholarship to private school – about $20,000!

    Because of the way Florida special education funding is structured there is no added incentive for giving special ed. services to the moderately disabled – the schools do not get more money for labeling or serving them than they get for the mild or marginally disabled. Yet, the moderately disabled are more difficult and expensive to educate. Thus, I have found that Florida parents of the moderately disabled tend to be less satisfied with the public schools which generally are not effectively educating them.

    If a parent of a moderately disabled student leaves public school with a McKay voucher worth let’s say $10,000/year, that money could put a good dent in a private school tuition which may do a better job educating that child. At the same time, the school district still retains the federal special ed. funds for that child but is no longer responsible for the touch job of educating him or her.

    The bottom line is that while special needs vouchers may not decrease the financial incentive to label students who are moderately disabled, they may result in a win-win situation for both schools and parents. And the largest growth in the use of special needs vouchers may come from those students, given Response to Intervention.

  4. Mike,

    How do you know that “special ed students are a money drain for school districts”? School officials are not reliable sources on this question because they usually do not properly account for what is an _additional_ cost of each diagnosis relative to the additional revenue. In addition,they are often lobbying for greater subsidies.