One Stop Special Ed Voucher Info

October 13, 2009

I know, I know.  I’ve been writing a lot recently about special ed vouchers.  But if you’ve missed it or are just looking for a convenient one-stop place to get the latest info, arguments, and evidence on special ed vouchers, check out the piece Stuart Buck and I wrote for the current issue of Education Next.  It’s filled with links, so it should be a useful resource for anyone interested in special ed vouchers.

Tampa Tribune Op-Ed

September 3, 2009

Marcus Winters and I have an op-ed in this morning’s Tampa Tribune on how Florida’s McKay voucher program for special education students has restrained the spiraling growth in special education enrollments in public schools.  We write:

In Florida, as in most other states, schools receive additional funding for each student identified as disabled. Often, these additional resources are greater than the actual cost of providing special-education services, giving schools a financial incentive to increase their diagnoses.

The financial incentive to misdiagnose is particularly apparent when classifying students as having a specific learning disability (SLD). That’s because SLD is the most common, the most ambiguous, and the least costly category of special education. In many cases, school officials might simply be trying to get extra resources to help struggling students. But the net effect is the misclassification of a huge number of students as having an SLD.

The McKay program reduces the financial incentive for Florida’s schools to misdiagnose learning disabilities by placing revenue at risk whenever a student is placed into special education…

In our new study, we found as the number of nearby, McKay-accepting private schools increases, the probability that a public school will identify a student as having an SLD decreases significantly. The program reduced the probability that a fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-grader in a school facing the average number of nearby private options was diagnosed as SLD by about 15 percent.

Special Ed Vouchers Restrain Growth in Disabilities

August 18, 2009

Marcus Winters and I have a super-awesome study released today by the Manhattan Institute.  It shows that offering disabled students special education vouchers reduces the likelihood that public schools will identify students as disabled.

This isn’t what Andy Rotherham and Sara Mead expected.  They claimed in a 2003 report for the Progress Policy Institute that: “special education vouchers may actually exacerbate the over-identification problem by creating a new incentive for parents to have children diagnosed with a disability in order to obtain a voucher.”

It didn’t. The reason special education vouchers restrained growth in disabilities, rather than exacerbate it, is that the vouchers check public schools’ financial incentives to identify more students as disabled.  Public schools may get additional subsidies when they shift more students into special education, but if they then make students eligible for special education vouchers, they risk having those students walk out the door with all of their funding.  It makes the public schools think twice before over-identifying disabilities for financial reasons.

And outside of the DC bubble, schools control the process of whether students are identified as disabled — not parents.  So, if we can check the positive financial incentives that public schools have for over-identifying disabilities, we can significantly slow growth in special education.

Nearly 1 in 7 students nationwide is now classified as having a disability.  That’s 63% more than three decades ago.  It’s clear that this huge increase in disabilities was not caused by a true increase in the incidence of disabilities in the population.  No plague has afflicted our children over the last three decades to disable two-thirds more of them.

Instead, non-medical factors have been driving special education enrollments higher.  Chief among these is the financial incentives we offer schools in most states to shift more students into special education by providing additional subsidies for each student classified as disabled.

Some states have reformed their special education funding formulas to end these financial rewards for higher special education rolls.  Greg and I reported in a 2002 study that states that continued to pay schools per student identified as disabled had much higher rates of growth in special education than states that had reformed their funding formulas.  Elizabeth Dhuey of the University of Toronto and Stephen Lipscomb of the Public Policy Institute of California have confirmed these findings.

Julie Cullen of UC San Diego has found that “fiscal incentives can explain over 35 percent of the recent growth in student disability rates in Texas.”  And Sally Kwak, a student of David Card at UC Berkeley and now a professor at U of Hawaii, finds a significant slow-down in special education enrollments when California reformed its funding system.

The new study Marcus and I released today builds upon this growing research by showing yet again that public schools strongly consider non-medical factors when deciding whether to classify students as disabled.  I don’t mean to suggest that all school officials are conscious of these incentives or acting with evil intention.  But it is clear that the system in which they operate and their actions are shaped by these financial incentives.

If we discovered that hospitals were filling their beds with healthy people who just felt a little tired in order to obtain additional government subsidies, we would be outraged and demand dramatic reforms.  Public schools are doing the same and it is time we get outraged and demand reforms.

Palin Backs Special Ed Vouchers

October 24, 2008

In a speech in Pittsburgh today, Governor Palin endorsed the idea of special ed vouchers saying, “In a McCain-Palin administration, we will put the educational choices for special needs children in the right hands — their parents’. Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice — public or private.

Under our reforms, federal funding for every special needs child will follow that child. Some states have begun to apply this principle already, as in Florida’s McKay Scholarship program. That program allows for choices and a quality of education that should be available to parents in every state, for every child with special needs.”

Special Ed Vouchers in NRO

September 9, 2008

I have a piece this morning on National Review Online about special education vouchers. 

Governor Palin said in her convention speech that she was going to be an advocate for special-needs kids in the White House.  I discuss what she should be an advocate for — special ed vouchers.

Another Special Ed Post on Pajamas Media

July 5, 2008

Greg Forster and I continue the discussion of financial incentives and special education over at Pajamas Media.  This piece responds to a PJM column by Laura McKenna, which was a response to an earlier PJM column we wrote.

All of this builds on special education posts on this blog here, here, here, and here.

More Special Ed Voucher Study

May 3, 2008

I’ll be on C-SPAN with Marcus Winters Monday morning at 9 am ET to discuss our new study on special education vouchers.  The show is Washington Journal, which has a call-in format.  We look forward to hearing from you!

You can find links to the study and some op-eds in the announcement below:

New Report by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters
 Manhattan Institute senior fellows Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters have released a new report entitled, “The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence from Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program.” The authors conclude that the McKay program has had a positive effect on the quality of education that public schools provide to disabled students.
To read the report, click here.

WASHINGTON TIMES SERIES:Winters and Greene have been featured in a three part series for The Washington Times, read their articles below.The Politics of Special-Ed Vouchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters, Washington Times,05-01-08
Vouchers for special-ed students Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, Washington Times, 04-30-08
Vouchers and Special Education Marcus A. Winters and Jay P. Greene, Washington Times, 04-29-08

A Special-Ed Fix, Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, New York Post, 04-30-08
An Interview with Marcus Winters: Special Education Vouchers,, 4-30-08       


Here’s another op-ed in an Arizona newspaper.

New Special Ed Voucher Study

April 29, 2008

Marcus Winters and I have a new study out today on the effects of special education vouchers in Florida on the academic achievement of disabled students who remain in public schools.  As we write in an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Times: “we found that those students with relatively mild disabilities —the vast majority of special-education students in the state and across the nation — made larger academic gains when the number of private options nearby increased. Students with more severe disabilities were neither helped not harmed by the addition of McKay scholarship-receiving private schools near their public school.” The findings are based on an analysis of individual student data using a fixed effects model.

The results of this analysis of Florida’s special education voucher program have important implications for the four other states (Arizona, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah) that have similar programs.  It also suggests ways that federal legislation governing special education, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), could be reformed.  We have two more op-eds coming out this week in the The Wash Times that will explore these issues.

Lastly, this new study speaks to the general question of whether expanded choice and competition improve achievement in public schools.  Like the bulk of previous research, including Belfield and Levin, ChakrabartiGreene and Forster, Hoxby, Rouse, et al , and West and Peterson (as a partial list), the new study finds that student achievement in public schools improves as vouchers expand the set of private options.


There is also an editorial endorsing continuation of the voucher program in DC in the Washington Post and another embracing vouchers in the Wall Street Journal

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