July 23 2010
Vicki E. Alger
The Senate will soon be considering a pilot special-education scholarship program for children whose parents serve in the Armed Forces. The National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) opposes such choice programs and began distributing fliers with talking points to U.S. Senators as part of their opposition campaign. This post tackles the first of five of the most commonly-perpetuated myths by the NCPE and other parental choice opponents.
Myth #1: "Public Schools Are Already Meeting the Needs of Military Students - Vouchers Are Unnecessary"-NCPE June 18, 2010
Enrollment in special-needs scholarship programs nationwide grew 76 percent just between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 school years (see here, p. 13), and as of the 2009-10 school year, nearly 25,000 students are participating in these programs. (see here, p. 17). Such growth indicates that public schools are not meeting the special education needs of many students-including those whose parents serve in the Armed Forces.
Florida's McKay Scholarship Program is the country's oldest and largest special-needs scholarship program, with nearly 21,000 participants, enacted as a pilot program in 1999 and expanding statewide the following year. Across a variety of key issues important to parents of students with special needs, satisfaction levels are significantly higher among parents whose children attend McKay Scholarship schools compared to their children's previous public schools.
Higher Parental Satisfaction. Parents are nearly three times as satisfied with their McKay Scholarship schools compared to their children's previous public schools, 93 percent compared to 33 percent. McKay parents are also almost three times more satisfied with the individual attention their children receive at their McKay schools compared to their children's previous public-schools, 95 percent versus 36 percent.
Smaller Class Sizes. Survey research finds, McKay Scholarship schools and public schools receive similar funding, but McKay special-education classes are roughly half as large and average 12 to 13 students.
Less Victimization. McKay scholarship students are victimized dramatically less because of their disabilities. In public schools, 47 percent were bothered compared to 5 percent in their McKay schools. In public schools, 25 percent were physically assaulted, compared to 6 percent in their McKay schools.
Fewer Behavioral Problems. The frequency of behavioral problems in McKay schools is about half that of participants' former public schools, 19 percent compared to 40 percent. Serious behavioral problems were twice as high in their former public schools compared to McKay schools, 66 percent compared to 33 percent.
Obviously, public schools are not meeting every child's needs-and there is no good policy reason to trap them in schools that aren't working for them.