Moving from Caps to Freedom for Special Needs Children in Texas

January 24, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yours truly is in the Houston Chronicle today on the U.S. Department of Education’s finding on the special education cap in Texas. Here’s a sample:

This sad affair reminds us of aspects of human nature we might feel more comfortable forgetting. Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram ran a series of fake experiments to test the willingness of people to obey an authority figure in the early 1960s. Milgram’s experiments asked students to administer what seemed to be electric shocks to subjects who were actors. Disturbingly, a large percentage of people were willing to administer what seemed to be fatal shocks if an authority figure told them to do so.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath took prompt action to end the TEA practices after the Chronicle revealed them. Education officials, however, have a long road to walk to restore broken trust. One of the best steps policymakers could take would be to make the families of special-needs children more independent of bureaucracies.

Several states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee – have given the families of special-needs students the ability to control their own education destiny by passing Education Savings Account programs. ESAs give these students an opt-out of the public school system in lieu of a state-funded account families can use to pay for individual public school courses, therapies, certified tutors, private school tuition and other expenses.

ESAs give special-needs families the opportunity to customize the education of their child. Families participating in these programs report sky-high levels of satisfaction, and two of the pioneering states that have been expanding options for special-needs students the longest – Arizona and Florida – have also demonstrated some of the strongest academic improvement for special-needs students remaining in the public schools.


North Carolina sets special needs children free, will Texas be next?

June 22, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The North Carolina legislature has passed an Education Savings Account program for children with disabilities as a part of the budget. If the budget becomes law as expected North Carolina will become the sixth state to join the ESA family.

Next month Texas legislators will return in special session, and Governor Greg Abbott has put a choice program for special needs children on the session call. Governor Abbott quite rightly has called for a choice program as part of an effort on the part of the state to dig itself out of a deep hole with special needs parents after 12 years of secretively running a de facto cap on the number of children who would receive services. Today in the Texas Tribune I make the case for why such a program would be especially beneficial to special needs children in Texas:

Put yourself in the shoes of a special needs student or parent for a moment: Would you desire a limited set of options and cold-blooded state policies discouraging districts from meeting your needs? Or would you desire a system in which you have additional options if things don’t work out?

Lawmakers can and should take other actions to improve the dismal state of special education in the Lone Star State. However, any reform effort should include the broadening of opportunities and should not preclude other efforts. After all, children with disabilities will only have the best opportunity to thrive and flourish when they have the ability to choose their service providers.

During the same period Texas bureaucrats covertly implemented a cap, Arizona lawmakers began increasing the options for special needs children. Let’s see how that has been working out for the special needs children:

K-12 reactionaries dragged us through the court system twice trying to stop us from offering options to these students in Arizona. We had to invent an entirely new form of school choice in order to ultimately prevail. It.was.worth.it.