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Everyone wants what’s best for children with disabilities. So it is not surprising when private schools—and hence school choice programs—are criticized because they do not have to accept all children with disabilities. We’ve heard the concerns before, and we heard them again in an NPR story yesterday taking the Indiana voucher program to task for private schools turning away kids with disabilities.
How could they be so cruel, we might ask, and choice supporters so callous?
Let’s start with a simple reality: Educating children with disabilities is generally more expensive than educating children without them, and private schools often struggle just to pay for educating the latter group. That should be no surprise: In the 2011–12 academic year—the most recent with public and private data—public schools spent $13,398 per pupil. Private schools, which rely on families paying tuition after they have paid taxes for the “free” public schools, charged on average $11,170, and many private students receive tuition discounts and aid.
One more thing: School choice is increasingly being targeted to children with disabilities, with programs now in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin. Why? Because parents with special needs children, especially, want empowerment—the ability to seek out what’s best for their children and control the money to educate them—rather than dependence on byzantine laws, bureaucracy, and just plain hope that maybe the system will work for their children.