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Vouchers May Be Reborn as Special Needs Program

After the Texas House dealt a crippling blow to Governor Greg Abbott’s plan to institute a school voucher program by barring any funding for such an initiative, the idea of revisiting it purely for the disabled and special needs is being bandied around.

Talia Richman and Allie Morris at the Dallas Morning News looked at one of the few Texas private schools specializing in disabled and special needs children, the Notre Dame School of Dallas. The Catholic campus teaches life skills to students, both children and adults, who have Down syndrome and other disabilities in hopes of helping them live an independent life. By all accounts, it’s a great place to send children.

It’s also expensive, about $24,000 per child, though thanks to fundraising and financial aid parents pay only up to 50 percent of the cost. A voucher program that would allow parents to use tax money for private school tuition would help parents shoulder the cost.

While the idea of a universal voucher program (dubbed an Education Savings Account) has met bipartisan resistance in the House, a narrower focus on disabled and special needs students may have more of a chance. For instance, it’s less likely to decimate rural public schools as many Republicans believe a universal voucher program would. As Texas public schools receive funds based on enrollment, the loss of even ten students can cost a campus jobs.

A new bill by Rep. Jacey Jetton (R-Richmond ) would offer parents $7,850 to cover tuition, transportation, and more. It would even allow leftover funds to be put toward higher education.

However, the vast majority of Texas private schools not only don’t provide the same specialized care that Notre Dame does, they are protected by law from even having to admit disabled and special needs students. One mother testified at a recent House Public Education Committee meeting that she could find no slots for her child in private schools, though others at the same hearing lauded their specialized schools.

Critics of universal vouchers have long said that disabled and special needs students would suffer if such a program was put in place. Public schools are required by law to provide services for students at no cost to parents, and for many low income families it is the only way that they can afford education accommodations. If a universal system draws more and more students from public schools, reducing the enrollment numbers and subsequent funding, then districts will have to make tough decisions when it comes to providing specialized education.

Often, the cost of special education is double the amount of other students. When budget cuts come, disabled and special needs students lose their dedicated spaces and have to integrate with mainstream classrooms. This can be incredibly counterproductive to the students.

Limiting the vouchers to disabled and special needs families could perhaps relieve the burden on some districts and get students the dedicated education they need, as well as woo Republicans who have opposed the damage a universal voucher would do to rural schools. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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