DeVos Won’t Publicize a School Voucher Downside, But It’s Leaking Out Anyway by Mercedes Schneider, EduBlog
By Mercedes Schneider
US ed sec Betsy DeVos is willing to exploit individual stories to promote school choice. She wants to sell school choice no matter what, and she conceals any downside to that choice.
Consider this story from Chalkbeat. It concerns a couple whose son DeVos used as an example of the wonders of school choice for students with special needs. In this case, the parents of a special needs student sued the school district regarding the rights of students with disabilities.
It turns out that the parents did not appreciate DeVos using their son’s situation as a school voucher sales moment.
I invite readers to read the entire article. However, in this post, I want to offer two critical issues noted by the parents in this particular case.
First of all, DeVos asked to meet with the parents, and in that meeting, the parents asked DeVos about the “free and appropriate education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) follows the special needs student from the public- to the private-school classroom.
There’s another key issue at stake in the conversation about vouchers for students with disabilities — one Jennifer and Joe asked DeVos about during their private conversation.
Do students with disabilities lose their rights to a fair and appropriate education — a guarantee under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — if they use vouchers to attend private schools?
Yes, DeVos said.
“She answered point blank,” Joe said.
While Joe and Jennifer say they were talking about the issue in the context of Florida’s voucher program, experts say the loss of rights occurs in a number of states and oftentimes parents are in the dark.
It is the private school that exercises the greater choice, not the special needs child. There are nuances to the situation of private schools serving special needs students, including the possibility of the private school coordinating with the public school for special education services. However, the bottom line is that private schools have the power to say no to vouchers, and they have the power to say that they are not equipped to serve special needs students.
No private school can be forced to accept voucher students, period.
A second issue is the cost. No state or federal voucher program will come close to paying full tuition for attendance at a top-shelf private school. DeVos features the parents in the above story as examples of the triumph of school voucher choice.
What she fails to mention is that the family she showcases receives a voucher worth 7 percent of the annual cost of the child’s private school tuition, an amount that his mother says “doesn’t do anything.” The parents’ health insurance pays 50 percent, and the parents apparently can afford the remaining 43 percent.
Finally, the parents acknowledge that since their child is attending a private school that is not in their neighborhood, the child is “missing out on all those years of friendship and growth with all of his peers in his neighborhood.”
In other words, community bonds matter, and an integral part of community bonding involves the community school.
School voucher choice disregards the value of community bonds.
Betsy DeVos does not caution against potential loss of “free and appropriate public education” rights for special needs students using vouchers.
She does not mention the fact that voucher money does not even come close to covering tuition costs for elite private schools.
And she places no value on the community components attendant with promoting healthy community schools.
Indeed, DeVos is quick to use a special needs student and his family to serve her needs for a convenient voucher commercial. And they are going public to set the record straight.
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