Heads You Win, Tails You Still Win

March 5, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to testify to the Senate Education committee in Texas today on the experience with parental choice programs for special needs children. One of the items of discussion was the following chart:

McKay Texas 1This phenomenon is often discussed regarding special education, but seldom quantified. In 2004 however officials from Education Service Center 20 (a regional body roughly covering school districts in the San Antonio area) provided the following chart to quantify the additional cost per special education student in a number of school districts. There were costs above and beyond those covered by state funding, and thus represented in effect a transfer from district general funds into special education funds on a per special education student basis.


Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby also testified to this interim committee in 2004, and she made the point that since school districts have been complaining that states don’t cover the full costs of special education for decades, that they have no cause to complain about students leaving with their (inadequate) funding. Districts can either keep these funds in the general education effort, or spend more on their remaining special education students (approximately 5% of Florida special education students directly utilize McKay but far more benefit from it) but either way they benefit.



Violators of OK’s Special Ed Voucher Law Get Good Mocking

November 16, 2010

School Choice Oklahoma uses its 21st century skills to make this auto-animated piece mocking school officials who refuse to comply with state law requiring them to offer vouchers to disabled students.  Keep up the mocking, School Choice OK, and you may knock these modern-day George Wallaces away from blocking the school house door.

Rhee Looks to Clean Up the DC Special Ed Barn with vouchers

July 23, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

There is a new contender in the race to enact the next McKay Scholarship-like voucher program for children with special needs: DCPS, led by the reigning Queen of the Cool Kids Michelle Rhee.

The Washington Times has the story.

This makes sooooo much sense. Special needs parents have been successfully suing their way to Cadillac Ferrari judgements and six-figure per year private school placements for years. Before you start to feel sorry for DCPS, it is worth noting their historical abysmal performance in fundamental tasks such as teaching children reading and math. We have almost zero reason to think that DCPS did anything better than catastrophically bad on average in dealing with the needs of special needs children. 

Also note, as Jay does on an as-needed-basis, that the horror stories of such placements routinely fail to note that the amounts involved typically constitute a rounding error of the total public school budget. DCPS does suffer from an unusual combination of its own historically high level of incompetence (they seem to lose early and often in court) and a group of sophisticated special needs attorneys who have become quite skilled at shooting fish in the DCPS barrell.

At times in the past, I have seen rather intellectually sloppy attempts to use the DCPS as a cautionary tale to warn people off of the idea of enacting a voucher program for special needs children. Well, let’s wipe this bug off the bottom of our boot again: a McKay program allows parents to leave for another public or private school only with (at maximum) the allegedly inadequate funding provided for the child’s education.

For decades, the claim made by the public school establishment in lobbying for higher special education funding has been that they have had no choice but to transfer endless billions of dollars out of general education budgets to fund special education.

Back in 2004, my friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and I caught Texas districts red-handed quantifying the amounts transfered from general to special education. Usually such claims are made by lobbyists in private conversations, or as unsupported legislative testimony, but TPPF found someone who had written it down:

…Figures presented to the Texas Legislature by officials from Regional Education Service Center 20. Public school officials in Texas relate that the state and federal government inadequately fund special education in Texas. Representatives of Education Regional Service Center 20 recently presented information before the House Select Committee on Public School Finance regarding the disparity between special education funding and special education spending in the San Antonio, Northside, Northeast, Alamo Heights and Floresville Independent School Districts.

In each district, representatives provided figures showing that districts spent hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars more on special education services than the funding they received from state and federal sources. While school district expenditures exceeded government funding for special education, the decision to spend monies above and beyond government funds was a decision made by the districts. The exact nature of excess expenditure is unknown. Whether additional monies were necessary or simply elective spending was not identified. Nor is it known if these expenditures were required to underwrite the cost of delivering government-mandated services.

In San Antonio ISD, Education Regional Service Center 20 figures show a disparity of $8,163 more spent than received per full time equivalent special education student. The disparity figures for the Northside, North East, Alamo Heights and Floresville districts were $3,536, $4,521, $7,992 and $2,949 respectively.

Any disparity between special education funding and special education spending must come at the expense of general education spending. Because education dollars are limited, money is diverted away from regular classroom instruction when districts decide to spend additional funds above and beyond government funding for special education.

The Education Regional Service Center 20 figures, for example, show that the San Antonio ISD spent over $17 million more on special education services than received from the state. Under HB 2465, every special needs student departing from San Antonio ISD with a Freedom Scholarship, despite having special education funding included, would lift a substantial funding burden from the district, freeing resources to either focus more on the remaining special education students, or for general education programs, or for some combination thereof.

So in other words, a voucher program allowing kids to leave with their normal allotment of general education funding and their special education funding would save the district money with each transfer.

So a McKay Program in DCPS would democratize access to private schools for all children with special needs from those who can access specialized attorneys to everyone. No one gets a Ferrari plan from McKay, just to opportunity to walk away with the money allotted for your child. The District spares itself a Ferrari payment and reduces the need to transfer general education funds.

Oh, and by the way, such a program would vastly increase the satisfaction of parents across a whole array of school measures.

Oklahoma Governor Henry signs Special Needs Vouchers

June 8, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Oklahoma joined Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Utah, Georgia, Iowa, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Indiana  in the states with private school choice programs when Governor Brad Henry signed the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act.

Governor Henry became either the second, third or maybe fourth Democratic Governor to create a new private school choice law with his signature. I lost count after Janet Napolitano became the first in 2006. In past the past couple of weeks, Democrats have passed a major teacher quality bill in Colorado, lifted the charter school cap in New York and now signed a voucher bill into law.  The alliance between sincere progressives and K-12 reactionaries continues to bend if not yet break.

It is a fascinating time to be working in K-12 reform.

Jay & Marcus in NR

October 2, 2009

NR cover (Jay & Marcus article)

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the new National Review, Jay and Marcus review the research on special education funding incentives, including the findings of their recent study on the impact of vouchers in Florida.

Financial incentives are particularly important in low-level disability categories like SLD, where a diagnosis is easily fudged. While you need pretty solid evidence to diagnose a child with a traumatic brain injury or other severe disabilities, schools have plenty of leeway on SLD. Some research suggests that public schools use low achievement alone to serve as an indicator of SLD. Studies dating back to the 1980s found that SLD students are indistinguishable from low-achieving regular-enrollment students, with one study estimating that over half the students identified as SLD in Colorado did not fit either federal or state definitions for SLD.

Digital subscribers go here; paper-only subscribers go here; non-subscribers go here.

John J. Miller Smacks Half Sigma

October 29, 2008

National Review columnist John J. Miller smacks a blogger known as “Half Sigma” for “dis”ing special education vouchers.  Half Sigma wrote: “Republicans applaud themselves for doing stuff that the left has been pushing for. We nominated a woman for Vice President. How wonderful of us. The female candidate talks about how she’s going to help “special needs” children, and the so-called conservatives applaud the conservatism of it. How wonderful of us. We are going to fight global warming. How wonderful of us.”

Miller then responds on The Corner: “I love those sneer quotes around “special needs.” Would it be better if we called them “retards”?

But that’s just a style point. The substance itself is vaporous. Sarah Palin — oops! “the female candidate” — is calling for the voucherization of special-education spending. This is a very good idea. It’s modeled on one of Jeb Bush’s best market-oriented reforms in Florida, where McKay Scholarships have gotten kids out of lousy public schools and into good private ones, saving taxpayer dollars in the process. School choice has been an elusive public-policy goal of conservatives for a long time; this is a promising path to securing more of it. I urge you to read NRO’s editorial; also this NRO article by Jay Greeneand my article in the Oct. 20 NRODT.”

Besides, The Notorious JPG and DJ Super-Awesome may give Half Sigma a whooping for not having read the post about how bloggers shouldn’t have rapper names

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