Rethink Special Education

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Long before Congress passed what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, parents and policy-makers grappled with the issue of how best to educate children and young adults with special needs. Should these students be taught in isolated environs or should they be mainstreamed? The answers are as disparate today as they were prior to IDEA, but solid research remains a guiding beacon.

Today, America has an estimated 7 million students who are labeled disabled, and a handful of states, including Florida, are employing nontraditional methods to educate such students. Some school systems, like D.C. Public Schools, seemingly drag their feet with IDEA and other laws that mandate children have a right to a free and an appropriate education. As a result, the District and the others find themselves reacting to costly lawsuits and, consequently, wasting millions upon millions of dollars each school year on out-of-state tuition, transportation and court costs that could be put to better use inside classrooms. Florida, on the other hand, began its first-in-the-nation voucher program for students with special needs in 1999. Called the McKay program, it allows the parents of students diagnosed with a disability to receive vouchers that can be leveraged at public and private institutions. The dollar amount of the scholarships is the lesser of the tuition at a private school or the amount the public school would have spent on the student. A new report released today by the Manhattan Institute - "The Effects of Special-Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida's McKay Scholarship Program" - evaluates Florida's program and its academic proficiency. …