Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

January 7, 2011

Patrick McIlheran Gives Pathetic Defense of Private Voucher Schools’ Refusal To Serve Special Education Students

Filed under: MMAC/ Howard Fuller,Right Wing Agenda,Vouchers — millerlf @ 4:11 pm

Patrick McIlheran does not even try to explain why MPS has a 21% special education population while private vouchers only serve a 3% population. Discouraging families of special education students has proven to be a successful strategy for voucher schools.

In a previous posting I stated, “I recently had a discussion with a voucher school principal. After being told that her school has only a “few” special education students, I asked, how is that possible?  She stated that she simply tells parents of special education students that she cannot provide the services that their children need. This principal said that parents then choose another school, most likely an MPS school.”

School choice and special education

By Patrick McIlheran of the Journal Sentinel

Jan. 3, 2011 |(11) Comments

Governor-elect Scott Walker says he wants to expand school choice – the ability of parents, especially poor ones, to take their state school aid to private schools – beyond Milwaukee.  I think that’s a good thing, and I explain why in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel.

Inevitably, the critics of choice – chiefly public-school teachers unions and those allied with them – will say that private schools have an unfair advantage, in that they can pick and choose their students.

This is, simply put, a falsehood. State law explicitly bars private schools from screening students in the choice program for ability – if they have room, they must take all children whose family incomes make them eligible.

Nor can they impose a religious test: Schools cannot require choice students to take part in religion classes or any sort of worship. Though, as researchers have pointed out, the fact that many choice schools have a religious background is attractive to many poor parents – even when the school’s religion and that of the parents differs. Religion, say researchers, serves as a marker for a whole constellation of other attitudes toward learning that poor parents feel will help their children succeed.

But choice schools, say critics, aren’t saddled as public schools are with disabled students. This, too, is untrue: State law is explicit that choice schools cannot bar a child for requiring special education. They can tell parents if a particular child’s disability is one they’re not equipped to handle (just as public school districts can tell parents that one particular school or another can’t handle their child’s disability).

In practice, choice schools in Milwaukee make an effort to serve children with disabilities, either in specialized places or in their own rooms – since the majority of children requiring special education are not in need of constant one-on-one tutoring but are, instead, labeled as emotionally or behaviorally disturbed. Often, educators tell me, the different environment in private schools is just what such children need.

Special-education students are costlier to educate, say school-choice critics, and public schools aren’t adequately compensated by state aid. I’m sure that’s true, though choice schools get no added money for special education – such students bring exactly as much state aid to choice schools as anyone else, about $6,400 a year.

Interestingly, things are different when special-ed children instead use open-enrollment to shift from their own public school district to another. They, like all Wisconsin children, can. And when most Wisconsin children who live in, say, Racine choose to go to public schools in, say, Oak Creek, Racine gets about $6,800 less in state aid and Oak Creek gets about $6,800 more.

If a child needing special education, however, makes such a shift, then the added cost of providing that special education falls on his home district, the one that’s losing his state aid. The exact amount and form of that extra help is up to the district he’s going to – and that district, the non-resident district, as it’s called, can keep a special-education student out if it feels it cannot provide what extra help the student would need. But the student’s home district can also scotch the transfer, state law says, if upon learning what it would be charged it feels the price is too high.

In short, when students are given the liberty to choose another public school, the law makes plenty of provision to handle the extra costs of special education. When students choose a private school via choice, the law makes no provision for special-ed costs – and choice’s critics then assail this as a failing of private schools, as if they were somehow being exclusive.

This is absurd, but what’s more, it points to another direction the Legislature could look: Perhaps, as is done in some other states, it could permit the parents of children with special needs extra aid that they could take with them to the school they think can best help out.

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