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Students with Disabilities in Voucher Programs Losing Rights, Government Study Says

For Immediate Release
December 12, 2017                    

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
press@ndrn.org

WASHINGTON – The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is pleased to see the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report dated November 16, 2017, entitled “Private School Choice: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities.” NDRN applauds the light this report shines on issues concerning students attending private schools with public dollars, whether through vouchers, tax credits or other schemes. NDRN believes that scarce and needed resources to maintain the quality of our public school system should not be diverted to publicly fund private school programs. Rather, our limited public funds should focus on making sure that every public school and teacher has the resources they need to be effective in meeting the academic and behavioral needs of all students, but particularly the needs of students with disabilities.

Moreover, NDRN has long been highly concerned that parents of students with disabilities are not aware of the rights they are losing when they place their child in a private school under a voucher or similar program. This is consistent with the GAO’s findings:

[I]n school year 2016-17, 83 percent of students enrolled in a program designed specifically for students with disabilities were in a program that provided either no information about changes in IDEA rights or provided information that Education confirmed contained inaccuracies about these changes. Officials from national stakeholder groups, private choice programs, and Education told GAO that some parents do not understand that certain key IDEA rights and protections—such as discipline procedures and least restrictive environment requirements—change when parents move their child from public to private school.

The GAO recommended that Congress “consider requiring states to notify parents/guardians about changes in special education rights when a parent moves a child from public to private school.” GAO also recommended that the Education Department review and correct inaccurate IDEA-related information states provide about their programs. NDRN wholeheartedly endorses these recommendations and considers them to be fundamental to the spirit of IDEA.

Additionally, we regularly hear from our network that students of color who are also students with disabilities are removed from voucher schools (both those solely for students with disabilities and those for all students) for disability related behaviors. We sadly are not surprised, as this practice would be consistent with the limited available data regarding removal of students in public and charter schools. We therefore also strongly recommend that voucher programs be required to provide removal data as they do other forms of data (disaggregated by race and disability category as public schools are required to do, and that states be required (in the Congressional action) and recommended (in Education guidance) to inform parents of all of the protections they are giving up.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

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