Our Position on School Vouchers and IDEA Reauthorization

Article excerpt

Approved by the CEC Board of Directors

June 20, 2003

It is the position of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to strongly oppose any federally authorized voucher program for students with disabilities as being contrary to the best interests of children and their families, the nation's public school systems, states and their local communities and taxpayers. Further, CEC believes that a voucher option would both contradict and undermine central purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

IDIA Policy for Private School Placements

IDEA allows for private school placements but under very strict conditions. If a school district is unable to provide a special education and related services under the terms of a particular child's individualized education program (IEP), then a placement may be made in a private school or facility, at no cost to the parents and paid for with public education funds. The decision is made collectively, thus involving representatives of the school district, the child's parents, and the other members of the required IEP team. The particular receiving school must meet all of the standards that apply to the state and local educational agencies, and the child and the child's family must be guaranteed all the rights and protections of the IDEA. Full authority, responsibility, and public accountability rest with the public school district, thus requiring on-going supervision and monitoring of the private placement. This Congressionally authorized option for private placements has worked effectively as a component of the IDEA for over a quarter of a century.

Non-Negotiable Guarantees

CEC further opposes voucher programs at the state or local level. Recognizing, however, that some such programs have been enacted, CEC strongly believes that any such program must include the following nonnegotiable guarantees:

* the same standards of accountability as those required of state and local educational agencies-including all federal and state rules and regulations-along with on-going public monitoring, full transparency of private programs, and regular reporting to parents and the public;

* full and demonstrated accessibility for all students, including students with special learning needs;

* provision for a complete program of special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services in the context of full implementation of the IEP, with periodic review and revision;

* a guarantee of a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE);

* full access for children regardless of racial or ethnic heritage, and children who are English language learners;

* a guarantee of all procedural safeguards under the IDEA, Section 504, the ADA, and other relevant civil rights laws of the United States;

* a guarantee of education in the least restrictive environment (LRE); and

* fiscal protections to guarantee that public education funds are not diverted to a voucher program at the expense of the students remaining in the public schools.

Rationale

By basic definition, voucher programs provide for the distribution of public education dollars in the form of monetary vouchers to parents of schoolage children to be used toward the cost of tuition at private schools, both sectarian and nonsectarian. While CEC acknowledges the historic and continuing contribution of private schools as part of the tapestry of American culture, CEC considers current voucher proposals under IDEA as ill-conceived for at least the following reasons:

Absence of necessary accountability

Public accountability is notably lacking for private schools, whereas local education agencies are held accountable by virtue of both federal and state laws and regulations. …