By Marta Jewson
April 19, 2017
The New York Times reports that in several states, students give up their rights to special education services if they accept a government voucher to attend a private school. That’s true in Louisiana, too.
Voucher programs provide public dollars for tuition at a private school. When they enter these programs in several states, children waive protection under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That law requires public schools to provide a “free appropriate public education” to all children.
In Florida, the Times reported, some families didn’t know they lost certain protections until they were already using vouchers.
“In the meantime,” reporter Dana Goldstein wrote, “public schools and states are able to transfer out children who put a big drain on their budgets, while some private schools end up with students they are not equipped to handle, sometimes asking them to leave. And none of this is against the rules.”
Besides Louisiana and Florida, parents in these states must waive all or some of their rights under that federal law: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The law is meant to ensure that all students, including those who need extra help, have equal access to public education.
In a typical public school, such accommodations can include anything from weekly sessions with a speech therapist to having a teacher’s aide remain by a student’s side throughout the day. Public schools must not only pay for these services, they must also pay for diagnostic testing if school leaders suspect a student has a disability.
Among the rights parents may give up in these states, according to the Times:
“... the right to a free education; the right to the same level of special-education services that a child would be eligible for in a public school; the right to a state-certified or college-educated teacher; and the right to a hearing to dispute disciplinary action against a child.”
Louisiana’s voucher program allows students to take the state funding that would have followed them to a public school and use it to enroll in certain private schools. To qualify, the student must be at a school rated C or below by the state. The family must also meet income requirements.
State law requires parents to acknowledge in writing that they agree “to accept only such services as are available to all students enrolled in the nonpublic school.”
Louisiana Department of Education spokeswoman Sydni Dunn said the decision was made after “lengthy debate by the legislature in 2012.”
Louisiana has another voucher program for children with disabilities. However, it is limited to students with certain disabilities. Schools specify which ones they can serve.
Just six schools in New Orleans participate in that program, far fewer than the 18 that take part in the regular voucher program. (One participates in both.)
Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.