Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Study Shows Special Needs Children Benefiting From Scholarship Programs

School choice opponents have several arguments against choice, none of which hold any ground. School choice comes in many sizes and colors, all with their own perks. Opponents of choice try to use the same arguments against each option, with nothing to back it up. Some cities or states have passed a broad sense of choice, others have narrowed down the scope. One area that takes my interest in special needs scholarships. These scholarships can be used by children with special needs to attend either public schools or approved private schools, varying program by program. According to a recent study, The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida's McKay Scholarship Program" by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the New York based Manhattan Institute, Florida's McKay Scholarship Program for special needs children is showing a strong positive impact on the relationship between school choice competition and the academic achievement of these students. The McKay Scholarship for Special Needs Program is the oldest and largest program of its kind in the country. Their study finds that children with special needs who were granted choices to other options, their math and reading scores were higher than those without choice. Children with "Specific learning Disabilities" were the most positively affected by the program, which categorizes the highest percentage of children with disabilities around the country. SLD children are scoring higher now than before McKay came along and children who have easier access to McKay scholarship schools are scoring higher than those who do not.
Greene and Winters took it a step further and analyzed the competitive forces behind programs such as these to see if there would be a scientifically valid correlation between school choice and student achievement. While they make it perfectly clear their study does not give the exact reasoning behind the increase in student achievement, they can say that is it helping. They feel the cause itself is not important to the policy debate. In a nutshell, choice, vouchers, tax credits, whatever you find, instead of harming public schools, they are improving the education the children are receiving.
Since McKay was started, four other states have enacted laws for children with special needs; Ohio, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia have all created some type of special needs scholarship program. I envision many more to be created in the future. Thousands of children are being served by these programs...finally.

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