As a special education lawyer in New York, I often help parents access their right to private school tuition reimbursement under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). So, do I support Betsy Devos’s ‘school choice’ agenda? Absolutely not. Let me explain.
Private does not mean better. A system that directs children with certain types of disabilities to certain private schools is problematic for several reasons:
- It lets public school districts off the hook; there’s no motivation to accommodate and integrate all different kinds of students into the educational community.
- ‘School choice’ programs can promote exclusion of students with certain disabilities and this type of segregation is exactly what the IDEA sought to eliminate or discourage.
- Private schools on the voucher list aren’t necessarily appropriate for the child – and if it isn’t, then the parent and child are left empty handed.
- Charter schools frequently are unable to serve students with certain disabilities – I’ve seen that a lot here in New York.
The current IDEA system is better for classified students and their parents:
- The IDEA requires public school districts to attempt to meet the needs of their students. This is especially important in areas where a variety of alternative private school options are not readily available.
- The IDEA allows Parents to explore a variety of private schools to find the learning environment and specialized instruction tailored to their child’s need instead of being forced to accept a private school that might not really serve their child’s needs.
Ironically, a typical school district defense to an IDEA private school tuition reimbursement claim is that the school selected by the parent is overly restrictive. Districts that used to be determined keeping certain students out became determined to keeping them in. In my view, the ‘school choice’ agenda would allow public school districts to revert to an exclusionary agenda and not in a manner that serves students. So, beware; private is not always better! Make sure that the school you select for YOUR child is a ‘fit’ and serves your child’s needs in a way that will allow YOUR child to be prepared for further education, employment and independent living. Of course this means that parents need to understand their children’s learning profile and the type of classroom that will serve their child’s needs – which means that the parents need to learn a thing or two about education.