Information Underload: Florida's Flawed Special-Ed Voucher Program

Liam Julian

Sara Mead
Education Sector
June 2007

Florida's McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities (which allow students with special needs to enroll in private schools with government money) are indisputably popular. They now assist about 18,000 special-needs students and rank as the nation's second-largest voucher initiative, behind only Milwaukee. But Sara Mead (formerly at Education Sector, now at the New America Foundation) isn't convinced that McKay is as good as its numbers suggest. Her beef, though, isn't really with McKay--it's with vouchers overall. This report's biggest complaint is that McKay students "do not have to take the annual state tests." Thus, nobody really knows how much they're actually learning or if they're receiving quality services. The report also points to the limitations of parent-satisfaction surveys. One such survey--done in 2003 by Jay Greene--showed that parents who used McKay vouchers were much more satisfied with their private school experience. Duh, says Mead. If they were satisfied in the public schools, they wouldn't have left. And she points out that parents often defend low-performing schools (public or private) for sentimental reasons. Then again, McKay allows those parents to exercise a choice and, if their local public school isn't meeting their children's needs, enables them to shop for better options. That's a good thing, right? But now look at us: we're just rehashing the old voucher debate. As with this report, which gives a good overview of McKay and its history, but offers shopworn criticisms and recommendations. Read it here, if you like.

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