Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Special Needs Children Should Get Better Options

Looks like Virgina is in the same boat as Missouri. We need and want legislation passed that would give children with special needs the opportunity to chose their schools...private or public. The 2008 legislative session, a bill was debated that would do just that. Unfortunately, it did not pass. The blame for this should be on the teacher unions and their fear of school choice. When someone thinks of teacher unions, they may think, well they are teachers, they must be looking for the best solution for the children...Wrong! They are out to serve themselves and the heads of these unions are making huge salaries while the children are still suffering. The unions are strong and powerful, have millions of dollars in lobbying efforts, and make people think they know what is best. Teachers are not bad...in fact, I love and appreciate them, however, the unions make it difficult for them by negatively influencing their opinions...like a little brainwashing powerful machine. Its quite unfortunate.
This article, taken from The Daily Press, discusses the benefits to a choice program for special needs children:

Grants boost special ed

July 2, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, a strong proponent of public education in Virginia, believed that every child should "be in reach of a central school." More than 200 years later, Jefferson's vision has been realized, but the nearest public school is not always the best for every child. This is especially true for children with physical or mental disabilities. Virginia parents tell sad stories of inadequate services at public schools, where students can fail despite having their own individualized educational programs. Dissatisfied parents' current only recourse, besides paying for private tuition on top of their property and other taxes, is a due-process hearing or lawsuit, which is time-consuming, stressful and costly for all involved.

Several states have begun to address these challenges by offering scholarships to special-education students. One of the most successful of these programs is Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. Recipients receive scholarships to attend the public or private schools of their choice; scholarship amounts are equivalent to what the taxpayers would have spent on their education in their local public schools. During the 2006-07 school year, it provided scholarships to 18,273 special-needs students becoming the largest educational-choice program in the United States.

For three consecutive years, state Sen. Walter Stosch has sponsored legislation to create a similar program in Virginia, which would provide a grant of up to $10,000 annually for any special-education student to use at a nonsectarian Virginia school of his family's choice.

A program like Stosch's could give Virginia's disabled students and their families more choice to seek out the best education for their individual situations, for example by selecting a school with a small staff that specializes in certain disabilities, such as autism or emotional disturbance. At the same time, such a scholarship program could actually help school districts save tax dollars. According to a study by Susan Aud, if Virginia provides tuition assistance grants of $5,000 apiece to parents of students with special needs, "the average school division would gain a net fiscal benefit of $5,214 from revenue sources that do not vary with enrollment (leaving these funds in school divisions even after students depart), and an additional net fiscal benefit of $6,729 because their reduction in special-ed costs would greatly exceed their reduction in per-student funding." That adds up to $11,943 in financial gain to the school district for each student in the first year of participation.

Special-education spending varies widely across Virginia school districts. Applying Aud's statewide average of $11,943, and assuming a 4 percent participation rate (based on Florida's experience with McKay scholarships), we can paint an impression of how much tuition assistance grants, TAGs, might save individual districts.

Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News each had approximately 5,000 special education students in 2005. If 200 of these students, or 4 percent, left their districts, the district would gain more than $2 million in the year the students departed, based on Aud's figure of $11,943 each. A district the size of Roanoke County, with more than 2,000 disabled students, could gain more than $1 million. A smaller district like Fredericksburg, with around 400 special-ed students, could gain nearly $200,000.

As with any needed service, freedom of choice is vital to quality education. This is especially true for students whose needs require customized instruction. Unlike public schools, which have limited funding to provide special services, private schools have incentives to satisfy families.

Allowing Virginia families to enjoy the same opportunities as their Florida counterparts to use at least part of the funds that would be spent on their children in public schools on education in the setting of their choice would better meet the needs of these students, save taxpayers' money and further the spirit of Jefferson's vision.

Carbone is an adjunct scholar at The Lexington Institute in Fairfax.

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