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School Vouchers

The New Buzz Word in Education Reform

During the committee hearings conducted for Education Secretary Nominee Betsy DeVos the term “vouchers” was mentioned several times. It has also been in the news and on media sites since that time. During her testimony DeVos spoke of using vouchers in relation to meeting IDEA requirements in Special Education. For those of us with children with IEP’s it is important to learn about this new prospect.

There are currently fourteen states and the District of Columbia which are employing vouchers in one form or another. They are called by different names and there are different types of vouchers. So some clarification of terms is necessary. Lurking in the background is the “Blaine Amendment” and what effect it will have on this subject.

 

Vouchers – Are sometimes called scholarships (different names depending on the State) and are set up to give parents the option of sending their children to private schools. These monies are used to pay part or all of the tuition for the private school. The money would be “taken” from the public school and allotted to the private school in the family’s name. Each state establishes the maximum amount allotted per child. Additionally states can set caps on the vouchers. This can be an overall monetary amount set by the legislature, a percentage of the total number of students in the district that can qualify, an income standard, or special groups can automatically qualify. The special groups can be children of military members, foster children, children in failing schools, or special education students to name some in current use.

Education Savings Accounts – are for funds deposited by the individual states into government approved savings accounts. These funds can only be used for those items approved by law. This can include tuition costs, tutoring costs, on-line schools or any other purpose the individual state law has included.

 

 

 

Tax Credit Scholarships – involve individuals or corporations donating money to a non-profit entity that provides scholarships to private schools. Applicable tax laws must be investigated.

Individual Tax Credits or Deductions – involve obtaining tax breaks for approved expenses. These breaks are for state taxes as there are no current federal tax breaks. However, President Trump has stated he may consider federal tax credits. The approved expenses can be tuition, transportation, books, materials, and/or tutors.

“The Blaine Amendment”—can refer to a failed amendment to the US Constitution or one of more than 35 state laws on the books. There is considerable argument concerning the religious purpose for establishing the Blaine Amendments in the latter 1880’s. If you wish to read a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report from 2007 debating this issue click on this link: http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/BlaineReport.pdf In those states where Blaine Amendments exist there may be a requirement for repeal of the amendment before school vouchers can become a reality. These amendments generally state the government may not give money to religious schools or other religious entities.

Cons

Detractors indicate there will be less federal involvement in education.

Those against the plans believe taxpayer monies should not support for-profit schools, religious schools or private schools. This they believe will take needed funds away from public school systems.

Rural areas may not have school choice.

Transportation costs may not be included in the voucher.

The state funded monies may not cover all the costs of tuition of the private school.

Private schools do not have to follow IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) as they are not a “public” school unless the individual state law specifically mandates it.

State laws that remain silent on IDEA do not mandate it and private schools can choose to ignore it.

When private schools expel students, do they have recourse to return to public school?

Some states require the public school special education teacher to come up with the new 504 Plan or IEP even though they have no contact with the student any longer.

Some online and charter schools are “for profit” and can eliminate programs at any time. Some schools have closed their doors mid-term or just days before the start of the school year leaving students with no recourse.

States have to hold the private schools academically accountable. If it is not in the law, private schools don’t have to measure up to the same standards as public schools.

Some laws require the child to have attended the public school system the previous year.

Schools in states that do not require any standards are generally seen as very weak.

Some states do not require private schools to have certified teachers or a bachelor’s degree.

Some private schools will charge “voucher students” higher tuition fees unless prohibited by law.

H.R. 610 which is before the US Congress may place restrictions on homeschooling. It is set to create a “Federal right to home school.” What one congress institutes, another congress can take away. States would be required to track homeschoolers. The government may place a dollar amount on monies allocated to home schools. The government would determine appropriate expenditures for homeschooling. The Home School Legal Defense Association has tracked the results of government funded home school correspondence and virtual schools for decades. The families reported their choices became more and more limited as they had to obtain approval for each subject from the government.

Ensure both parents and students qualify for attendance in a private school. Some schools refuse admission based on discriminatory practices that they may apply to either the parents or the students.

Lobby groups, virtual academies and small schools are using the word “public” in their titles and literature to imply they are a public school or representing public schools when in fact they are for-profit schools.

Pros

Supporters indicate there will be less federal involvement in education.

Backers of the voucher plans believe that competition will make all schools better in the long run.

Students in failing public schools can opt for a public school with a better academic success.

Currently, some states allow transportation costs to be figured into the voucher.

Some scholarship accounts will allow parents to pay for tutoring, therapy, textbooks and online courses.

In some larger cities there are private schools dedicated to working with a particular type of student such as children with dyslexia. Vouchers to attend that type of school may assist the student beyond any public school special education program without the entire staff trained to deal with students with this disorder.

Students of active military members or in foster care can qualify quicker.

State laws requiring school accreditation, teacher performance standards, schools included in the state school grading system and state assessments to students are generally seen as very beneficial.

Public Schools must have certified teachers.

H.R. 610 before the US Congress would allow “vouchers” for homeschooling.

Often the parental choice to use vouchers is the failure of the public school system to adequately school their child.

Some states have provided multiple voucher programs. Parents can choose the one best fitting their family in some instances.

As time progresses; more information about these programs will become available. Remember you can go online to check your state’s laws on how monies for education can be disbursed. You can also check on the “report card” for your current school or intended school.   This can include the number of students per grade, number of faculty members, average class size, ethnicity of students and the graduation rate. As states approve voucher systems, for-profit schools will crop up very quickly.  Hopefully the information provided here will help you in your search for the A+ school of your choice.

Stay Awesome,

Judy

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