Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

School Choice Vouchers and Special Education in Indiana Catholic Diocesan Schools/Los Cupones Para Escuelas De Eleccion Y la Educacion Especial En Las Escuelas De la Diocesis Catolica De Indiana/Cheques-Education Pour le Choix De L'ecole et Education Specialisee Dans Les Ecoles Catholiques Diocesaines En Indiana

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

School Choice Vouchers and Special Education in Indiana Catholic Diocesan Schools/Los Cupones Para Escuelas De Eleccion Y la Educacion Especial En Las Escuelas De la Diocesis Catolica De Indiana/Cheques-Education Pour le Choix De L'ecole et Education Specialisee Dans Les Ecoles Catholiques Diocesaines En Indiana

Article excerpt

Since the first publicly-funded school choice voucher program was enacted in Wisconsin in 1990, voucher programs that allow parents to use public funds for tuition at private schools have increased significantly (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2016; Underwood, 2015). These programs typically operate by reallocating a portion of state funding for public schools to families in the form of tuition vouchers that cover all or part of a child's private schooling costs. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, over 166,000 students were enrolled in voucher programs in 15 states and Washington, DC, and an additional 14 states offered other forms of financial incentives for students to enroll in private schools through scholarship programs and tax credits (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2016).

Proponents of vouchers argue that these programs will stimulate improvement in both the public and private school sectors through competition, as well as provide parents with increased autonomy to determine how tax dollars will be used for their children's education (Center for Education Reform, 2014; Etscheidt, 2005). Opponents of voucher programs cite concerns related to their constitutionality at both the state and federal levels, particularly as it relates to the First Amendment and the separation of church and state (Cunningham, 2015; Underwood, 2015). With these concerns at the forefront, several existing state voucher programs have been challenged in both federal and state courts. Voucher programs in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin have all been ruled to be constitutional after several levels of court decisions, and multiple scholarship and tax credit programs in Arizona that permit parents to enroll their children in private schools have also been ruled as operating within the accepted parameters of the U.S. Constitution and state law (Cunningham, 2015; Underwood, 2015).

Voucher Programs and Special Education Services

Additional concerns have been raised about the obligations that private schools have regarding the education of students with disabilities who participate in voucher programs (Underwood, 2015; Etscheidt, 2005). Opponents fear that these voucher programs will provide funds to schools that do not have the capacity and are not legally required to serve students with disabilities as outlined in federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Taylor, 2006). Of the 15 states with voucher programs, 11 states have programs that specifically target the enrollment of students with disabilities in private schools. Nine of these states have had the programs for multiple years, and two states (Arkansas and Wisconsin) have new programs for the 2016-2017 academic year (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2016).

There appears to be reasonable cause for concern. Citing existing policy documents and program guidelines, Etscheidt (2005) and Taylor (2005, 2006) raised potential issues regarding the extent to which voucher programs require private schools to adhere to the core principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including developing and implementing individualized education programs, providing services in the least restrictive environment, offering due process to parents when disagreements arise, and utilizing non-discriminatory assessment procedures. Cunningham (2015) noted that each of the nine states with voucher programs specifically targeted toward the enrollment of students with disabilities had policies that required parents to forgo their rights under IDEA. Based on these analyses, it appears that voucher programs are requiring parents to forgo their substantive and procedural rights under federal disability law. However, there are no recent court decisions that examine the legality of voucher programs in regards to the requirements of IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. …

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