Vouchers and special needs students.  

What is this new catch phrase under our new administration, known as school choice and vouchers? 


“School vouchers, also referred to as opportunity scholarships, are state-funded scholarships that pay (often partially) for students to attend private school rather than public school.”



School choice, vouchers, and so much talk about placing students anywhere but public schools. What happens to children who have disabilities and an IEP? How will they receive their services? Who oversees?  Do parents realize that this may be an issue? 

Please read-

Special Education: Vouchers and Betsy DeVos

Click to access COPAA_Voucher_paper_final_R6.pdf

Shawne Albero, a SEPTA president of a New York district, shares some information.  

“The enrollment of the student with disabilities in a private school with voucher monies is considered “parental placement”. Parentally placed students with disabilities may be eligible for services via the district in which the private school is located, not the private school itself. And that is dependent on whether or not the students falls into the percentage of students eligible- it’s called “proportionate share” of special education funds. A school district only has to service a percentage of students attending private schools via parental placement. The info on that can be found here:

Click to access idea.pdf

Private schools have no obligation to honor IDEA. They do not accept federal funds, and therefore do not fall under the jurisdiction of federal laws. This does not change (so far) when private schools accept voucher money. So, for example, in FL, when parents accept voucher monies from the McKay Scholarship, they waive their rights and their child’s rights to due process. If the IEP is not being administered properly, then parents have no recourse. Nor does the private school have to honor an IEP if it doesn’t choose to. 

Additionally, no longer an Iep, a plan would now be called an “ISP” or “Individualized Service Plan”, which is a limited menu of services that the home school district has determined it can offer to the private schools located within its boundaries. Keep in mind, the private school is not administering the ISP. Whatever accommodations and modifications made to the curriculum by the private school, are decisions that have no legal standing. A parent cannot pursue due process against the private school. Usually the services offered in an ISP are related services, such as Speech, OT, PT/ Consultation services for school staff, ex. a behaviorist/ Consultation and direct services for visually impaired students

Click to access IEP%20vs.%20Service%20Plan.pdf

Below is a comparison of state programs. Several studies have been made of school vouchers for typical students, but very few have been done on the efficacy of school vouchers for students with disabilities.

Click to access StatebyStateVoucherComparison.pdf

Many parents will point to the struggles their children with disabilities face everyday in the public schools as a justification to accept vouchers. The lack of training, the unfunded mandates, the failure of our schools to recognize the different types of instruction our students with LDs require, as well as social skills training to handle anxiety, or unexpected events.
If vouchers for students with disabilities come to NY- here are some important questions:
1. If training for special educators and general ed. teachers to understand issues such as executive function deficits, learning disabilities, social skills, etc. is already a low priority, what will happen when public school districts can simply offer vouchers? Will they abandon improving special education in the district bc they can influence those students to exit?
2. What happens when students with disabilities exhibit behavior issues in a private school? Or academic failure? They have no protection under IDEA in most states (meaning no due process recourse) so their parents don’t have any leverage.
3. Twice exceptional students are a population that are least likely to receive vouchers. What happens to them?
4. How do parents make up the shortfall between voucher amounts of $4000-$21000 if tuition at private schools dedicated to students with disabilities averages around $40,000?

Parents can obtain services for their child thru the “proportionate funds” even if they choose to enroll their child in a private school. But again, these are severely limited services. Remember, not all children will be eligible. Once the school district exhausts those funds for the year, that’s it. This depends on what the home school district agrees to. It’s very, very hard to get effective social skills training in many public school districts right now, so many are not equipped to service their own students, much less parentally placed private school students. This is what NYS says:

“Provision of Special Education Services-

The school district of location is responsible to provide special education services pursuant to the IESP developed for each eligible student. Services must be provided on an equitable basis as compared to other students with disabilities attending public or nonpublic schools located within the school district.  

The manner (how, where and by whom) special education and related services will be provided to students is determined by the district of location based on the consultation process and in consideration of the individual needs of the student. The final decision with respect to services provided to individual students is made by the CSE of the district of location. Services provided to parentally placed students may be provided on the site of the private school or at another location. ”


Special Education advocate Michele Hirsch adds:  

“If a private school is a state approved school,  then the laws would have to be followed. Below is a list of approved schools.”  

It is imperative that a parent be aware of if the desired school has been state approved. Many are not. 

One New York parent activist states her concerns –
“Services for a parentally placed private school child with a disability must be provided in accordance with a services plan. A services plan must describe the specific special education and related services that will be provided to a parentally placed private school child with disabilities designated to receive services. 

 See 34 CFR §300.138(b). The regulations in 34 CFR §300.137(a) explicitly provide that children with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private schools do not have an individual right to receive some or all of the special education and related services they would receive if enrolled in the public schools.
Here’s how it can work for a special ed student placed in a private school by “parent choice” (as opposed to a placement decision of the CSE which is entirely different). The district will provide funding for services necessary. It has to pay for OT/PT/Speech/behavioral consultant/ and sometimes even special education teacher services up to a certain allocated percentage. However, that’s where the school responsibility ends. There is no supervision of the students educational program if they are in a parent choice private school. If therapists aren’t showing up, it becomes the parents problem. Special ed teacher is out sick….oh well! There is no one supervising the staff providing services so the teacher may or may not be effective. There is no one looking at the student on a regular basis so no one is adjusting the program or goals as needed. Often times it is parents responsibility to find the teachers and therapists from an approved list that the district is legally allowed to pay. Some private schools will do this but not all, and it is not the school district’s responsibility. It really puts the onus even further on the parent to be vigilant. Plus travelling to the places where the service providers are can be a burden too. The whole thing can be exhausting, even if the private school agrees, enforcement is logistically a nightmare.”

Linked below is a study by the GAO showing that vouchers for private schools for SWDs can complicate administration of “equitable services”, aka: special education services, provided by the school district in which the private school is located. From the study: “…but officials in all four states GAO visited—comprising half of all private choice programs and two-thirds of participating students—said that vouchers and ESAs complicate their efforts to implement these requirements.” 

How the new administration proceeds with vouchers is unclear, but this has been a hot topic and one that will not be going away any time soon. What will happen to our students, and our special needs children? Remain vigilant. Ask your representatives. They serve YOU, not the opposite.