Vouchers Do Not Adequately Serve Students with Disabilities


Private voucher schools do not adequately serve students with disabilities, often denying them admission or subjecting them to inappropriate or excessive suspensions or expulsions. Nor do they provide them the same quality and quantity of services available to students in public schools, including those mandated under each student's individualized education program (IEP).


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. Students who leave the public schools with a voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to students under IDEA because they are considered parentally placed in private schools. Students accepting vouchers would not necessarily receive all the services listed on the IEP that they currently receive in their public school. Also, when members of the IEP team, which includes parents, cannot agree on the services that a child should receive, the parents have the right to raise their concerns with a hearing officer and ultimately to take the school district to court if necessary. Students who are parentally placed in a private school through a voucher do not have these due process protections.


Most voucher programs also permit schools to discriminate in their admission policies and do not have to accept a student with a disability. As a result, students with disabilities are systematically excluded from voucher programs. For instance, most private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program “lack the full complement of educational programs that students with disabilities are entitled to if they receive their education in the public sector,” and as a result, students with disabilities have been discouraged or excluded from participating. And, the final US Department of Education report on the Washington, DC voucher program showed that a main reason why students didn’t use a voucher offered to them was that they were unable to find a participating school with services for their learning or physical disability or other special needs. Indeed, 21.6% of parents who rejected a voucher that was offered to their child did so because the school lacked the special needs services that their child needed, and, 12.3% of the parents who accepted a voucher for their child but then left the program cited a lack of special needs services at the school they had chosen.