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Monday, December 4, 2017

GAO Recommends Legislation re: Notice of Rights of Students with Disabilities In Voucher/Waiver Programs

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
December 1, 2017

Growth of voucher and ESA (education savings account) programs has drawn attention to the ways states ensure accountability and transparency to the public and prospective parents. With over half of voucher and ESA programs specifically designed for students with disabilities, there is interest in the information parents receive about special education services and rights when enrolling in a choice program. GAO was asked to examine these topics in more depth.

The GAO found that almost all of the 27 private school choice program websites provide a directory of participating schools, and some provide guidance on selecting schools.

However, GAO estimates that no more than half of all schools participating in any type of voucher program mention students with disabilities anywhere on their websites, according to GAO’s review of a nationally generalizable sample of websites of private schools in voucher programs.

GAO found private school choice programs inconsistently provide information on changes in rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when parents move a child with a disability from public to private school.

In 2001, the U.S. Department of Education (Education) strongly encouraged states and school districts to notify parents of these changes, but according to Education, IDEA does not provide it with statutory authority to require this notification.

According to GAO’s review of information provided by private school choice programs, and as confirmed by program officials, in school year 2016-17, 83 percent of students enrolled in a program designed specifically for students with disabilities were in a program that provided either no information about changes in IDEA rights or provided information that Education confirmed contained inaccuracies about these changes.

Officials from national stakeholder groups, private choice programs, and Education told GAO that some parents do not understand that certain key IDEA rights and protections—such as discipline procedures and least restrictive environment requirements—change when parents move their child from public to private school.

Ensuring that quality information is communicated consistently and accurately to parents can help address potential misunderstanding about changes in federal special education rights.

The GAO recommended that Congress should consider requiring states to notify parents/guardians about changes in federal special education rights when a parent moves a child from public to private school. In addition, GAO recommends Education review and correct inaccurate IDEA-related information provided by states.

Given the current policy debate about school choice and its impact upon the rights of students with disabilities, this is an important study to review.

You can read the one page summary here. You can review the entire 53 page report here.

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