Lawmakers in at least 10 states are considering a policy
shift that would bring more educational choices to an especially vulnerable
population of students: the special education voucher. They are taking inspiration from a pioneering
effort in Florida,
the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities, which already is
emulated in six other states. This program has saved taxpayers money while
satisfying participating families. What’s more, teacher unions seem disinclined
to mount a legal challenge to a program that benefits students with special
needs, though they remain eager to fight other voucher programs.
But are happy families and budget savings enough? What about
academic achievement? Do the private schools these kids attend teach them
anything? How does their performance compare with those of special-needs kids
who remain in public schools? Right now, we simply don’t know.
Currently, 28,800 special-education students receive
publicly funded private-school scholarships in seven states. Florida’s McKay program serves nearly 80
percent of those youngsters; according
to Manhattan Institute scholar Marcus A. Winters, it’s “a nearly ideal
template” for policy makers to consider. The Sunshine State’s
Legislature established it 13 years...