Vouchers for disabled students

Special education vouchers would enable parents of disabled students to shop for the services their child needs, writes Jay P. Greene in City Journal. Currently, parents have to deal with a system that promises services but often fails to deliver.  Some become aggressive advocates for their children; most accept what they get.

Every student identified as disabled could get a voucher worth no more money than the public schools would spend to educate that child (with more severely disabled students receiving more generous vouchers). Students could then use the vouchers to attend private school if they wanted. No one would have to use the vouchers, and students choosing to remain in public schools would retain all the rights they already have there. Disabled students would simply gain a mechanism — a market mechanism — to help them make their rights a reality.

Vouchers could save money, since private schools tend to be cheaper than public schools.

In Florida, for instance, where a special-ed voucher program is already operating, the average cost of a voucher for disabled students is $7,206—far below what taxpayers spend for the average special-ed student in public school.

Second, vouchers reduce the public schools’ tendency to move ever more students into special education, including many who aren’t in fact disabled but are disruptive or just struggling academically. . . .  schools may think twice about overidentifying disabilities for financial reasons if, every time they do so, they risk losing students and all their funding to private schools.

“Florida public schools have indeed become somewhat more reluctant to classify students as disabled with the increased availability of vouchers,” writes Greene, who studied the Florida system with Marcus Winters. The found Florida students are more likely to receive appropriate services in private schools and are less likely to be bullied.

The voucher program serves a representative distribution of disabled students, so that students with more severe disabilities, as well as students from low-income or minority backgrounds, can find what they need in private schools, just as their more advantaged counterparts can. . . . Finally, the public schools feel some competitive pressure to improve their own services for disabled students, even as they become more restrained in categorizing students as disabled. In fact, Winters and I found that achievement levels for disabled students remaining in the public schools improved significantly when those students had more options to leave.

Georgia, Ohio and Utah are using special-ed vouchers as well.

Vouchers for low-income students also could save inner-city Catholic schools, which offer an alternative to black and Hispanic students, writes Patrick J. McCloskey, author of The Street Stops Here. These schools have been closing, unable to cover their costs with donations or tuition.

(Vouchers) save money, too, since the public school system spends about $20,000 annually on each student, while the Catholic schools achieve their superior results for about $5,500 per urban elementary school student and $8,500 per high schooler. (An adequate voucher would cost slightly more, say $6,500 for elementary school and $9,500 for high school students, to include funding for remedial education for many current public schoolers.)

Of course,  teachers’ unions would fight hard against vouchers.

Tragedy: NYC loses Catholic schools

The closing of Catholic schools in New York City is a tragedy, writes Sol Stern on City Journal. The Street Stops Here by Patrick J. McCloskey explains why. McCloskey writes about Rice High School, which educates black boys in central Harlem.

No security guards or metal detectors greet them at the doors. But the boys remove their do-rags and hooded sweatshirts and presto, they become Rice men, with pressed slacks, oxford shirts and ties, and green Rice jackets. “The ritual is almost sacramental,” McCloskey writes. “The young men lose their street swagger and transform into students not much different than their peers at suburban, predominantly white Catholic schools.”

Rice’s teachers and administrators work hard to create “a counterculture of middle-class values and an ethos of hard work,”  Stern writes. That’s the  “Catholic-school advantage,” which the successful charter schools have learned from.

Though most ninth graders start out two years behind in reading and math, they gradually catch up to grade level.

Rice’s graduation rate is a legitimate 90 percent, compared with the public schools’ rate of 50 to 60 percent—despite per-pupil spending in the city’s public high schools triple that of Rice’s. Most Rice graduates go on to some form of higher education.

There are plans to convert some Brooklyn’s Catholic schools into publicly funded charter schools, as was done in D.C.  If it works, other boroughs may follow suit.

My book, Our School, is about a public, secular charter school that also has the Catholic-school advantage. The bishop once called it “the best Catholic school in San Jose.”