PSA: School Choice For Special Needs Students
We interrupt our (ir)regularly scheduled blog post for a brief public service announcement: October is Disability History and Awareness Month. We can all agree that students with special needs require special care. Too often, schools are unable to meet the needs of students and their families. This has historically been an issue in Saint Louis, where city employees have been required to live in the city and the schools have had a poor track record. It is also an issue in many rural communities, where families feel under-served. Many states are realizing the best way to improve services and increase parental satisfaction is to provide families with options.
Currently, seven states have a voucher or tax-credit program which provides scholarships for students with disabilities to attend the private school of their choice. The largest, Florida’s McKay program, provides scholarships to more than 20,000 students. A 2006 study of McKay participants indicated participating parents were significantly more satisfied with their child’s school than were parents with a special needs child in a traditional public school. In fact, approximately 90 percent of participating parents indicated they were satisfied, compared to only 71 percent in the comparison group.
Unfortunately, most families in Missouri with special needs children have relatively few options when it comes to their child’s education. In Saint Louis County, families may be able to send their special needs child to the Special School District of St. Louis County, and in other areas, schools may participate in a co-op. These schools may improve service for some; but families with children who need special services are still at the mercy of the provider. If their needs are not being met, they can labor to improve the conditions at the school, but they may have nowhere else to turn if the circumstances do not improve.
Scholarship programs for students with special needs allow families to seek out the best options for their children, allowing them to find the school that can best meet their child’s unique needs. So for Disability History and Awareness Month, let’s raise awareness about the importance of providing educational options for deserving Missouri families.