Look Who’s Standing in the Schoolhouse Door Now

The Oklahoma legislature and its Democratic Governor adopted a law allowing disabled students to use public funds to attend a private school if they wished to do so.  Similar laws have been passed in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Utah, and Arizona.

Disabled students have had to fight for decades to receive an adequate education from the public school system.  Federal legislation, now called IDEA, was adopted in the mid-1970s to ensure an appropriate eduction for disabled students.  Unfortunately, having a legal right to something and actually receiving it are two very different things and many disabled students continue to be denied appropriate services despite their legal entitlements.

That’s why several states have decided to empower families with disabled children with an additional mechanism by which they could ensure receiving an appropriate education — special education vouchers that would allow them to transfer to private schools if they believe that the public schools are not serving them adequately.  Oklahoma is the latest state to offer these vouchers but it almost certainly won’t be the last as several other states are considering the idea.  And there is good evidence that special education vouchers are significantly improving outcomes.

But, according to Education Week, four Oklahoma school districts have decided not to offer these vouchers that are required by state law.  The reasons given for willfully disobeying the state law are varied.  One district, Broken Arrow, has suggested that the voucher laws violate the state’s constitution because funds would go to religious schools.

Besides the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court and several states have ruled that these vouchers would not pose this type of constitutional threat, apparently public school district officials in Oklahoma think they know better.  And they’ve discovered some new constitutional process by which school officials interpret the constitution rather than the courts.

Actually, it’s not really a new method of deciding who should interpret the constitution, since it was a method well-established by segregationist school officials and governors who believed that they had the power to block black students from exercising their civil rights no matter what the law or courts said.  Now it is disabled students who are being blocked at the schoolhouse door.

The willingness of public school officials to publicly flaunt their disobedience of the law is not even very unique in current times.  Just two years ago school officials in Georgia decided to disobey the state’s duly enacted social promotion policy simply because they disagreed with the policy. Some of the Oklahoma public school officials similarly believe that they have standing as educators to decide what is best for kids and formulate the policy regardless of what the law and the people who pay them say.

Public school officials get away with this kind of willful violation of the law far too easily.  No one will go to jail.  No one will lose their job.  No one will be sanctioned in any way.  And they wonder why having a law to ensure appropriate services for disabled students isn’t sufficient.  Maybe it’s because public school officials apparently don’t have to follow the law.

10 Responses to Look Who’s Standing in the Schoolhouse Door Now

  1. MOMwithAbrain says:

    Excellent analogy!

  2. Oklahoma’s top education official says these noncompliant school board members are violating their oaths of office. http://bit.ly/cLnlfm

    Does anyone find it curious, this sudden interest in constitutionality? As Jay has pointed out — http://bit.ly/35u0bK — Oklahoma has hundreds of private-school placements. Yet until now I haven’t heard Blaine objections.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Jay, I think you owe the tobacco lobby an apology. They never did anything like this!

  4. Larry Ash says:

    Seems like a simple matter for the OK AG to seek a court order asking a Judge to put the “responsible” school officials in the Greybar Hotel for contempt if they refuse to follow the law.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    Yes, absolutely. And it would also be a simple matter for me to lose some weight by eating fewer candy bars and getting my rear out for some exercise on a regular basis.

    That is, it would be simple if I really wanted to do it.

    But I don’t.

    Same principle applies here.

  6. Patrick says:

    I caught the Nevada State Department of Education, Washoe and Clark County School Districts from ignoring state law on school decentralization. That was a year ago – after breaking the news, not one thing was done to correct the problem.

    • amy says:

      In my opinion, there are problems with the way Oklahoma wrote this law. Besides the schools statement that it is unconstitutional because of using public funds to go to religious schools, the other issue is how the student continues to qualify for the vouchers. There is nothing that states the student must continue to qualify for an IEP. An example would be a first grade student that is on an IEP for speech, not being able to say his /r/’s which is typically a short term IEP. However this student would qualifty for an IEP for a short time, they would continue to receive a voucher until 12th grade even though they no longer qualify for services. Also it is my understanding that the money goes directly to the parents, how is there any guarantee that it is going toward their education. If the school district is unable to meet a students special needs, I am in agreement with a voucher, it just there just needs to be better checks and balances.

      • Amy:

        The check is made out to the parent but mailed to the private school. The law says: “upon issuance of a scholarship warrant, the parent or legal guardian to whom the warrant is made shall restrictively endorse the warrant to the private school for deposit into the account of the private school.”

        You make a good point about the IEP. Two thoughts: (1) In what is known as the Special Ed “bounty system,” schools often put kids on an IEP just to get the extra loot. Now they’re discovering — whoops! — all these kids are eligible for a voucher. The law of unintended consequences is not mocked. Difficult to muster sympathy for the schools. (2) Everyone — not just special-needs kids — deserves school choice. So if the kid with the mild speech impediment manages to flee to greener pastures, more power to him!

  7. Greg Forster says:

    So we know of several cases where schools refused to comply with accountability or choice laws and had no enforcement action taken. Has there ever been a case, anywhere, where schools refused to copmly with these types of laws and action was taken? If not, that’s worth noticing, isn’t it?

  8. Matthewladner says:

    The parents of a child with a disability should file suit against both the district and these neanderthals.

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