The Louisiana Department of Education has been issuing private school vouchers to children who are part of the Special Education program. It is being done in a lottery type system. The result was that a child who has autism couldn’t attend the school his voucher was for because that school didn’t have resources to support students who have autism.
A school voucher, according to Dictionary.com is: “a government cash grant or tax credit for parents, equal to all or part of the cost of educating their child at an elementary or secondary school of their choice”. It can also be called an “educational voucher” or a “scholarship”.
Briefly, a school voucher can be used by a parent to move his or her child out of a public school that cannot meet the child’s educational needs, and into a public or private school that is better able to meet those needs. The purpose is to ensure that children who have special needs, or who are part of the Special Education program, can get the services that they require from their school.
This concept is called a “Free appropriate education” and comes from Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Not all voucher systems work well. In Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Education had more interest in the private school voucher/scholarship system than the program could accommodate.
To solve the problem of deciding which children would receive the voucher, and which would not, the Department of Education did a lottery. Students were randomly selected for the voucher. Each voucher was specifically for a certain private school.
A mother named Trailais Tillman signed up her son, Aidan, to receive a voucher. Aiden was zoned to go to a public school that is failing. She was thrilled when the lottery resulted in her son receiving a school voucher for a private school called Evangel Christian Academy.
There was a big problem, though. Aiden has autism. Evangel Christian Academy told Trailais Tillman that the school does not have the services that he needs. This means that even through Aiden was selected to receive a school voucher he cannot accept it. Clearly, this is a big flaw in the way that the vouchers were being distributed.
The Louisiana Department of Education released this statement:
“Nonpublic schools participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program may not turn away assigned students. However, because nonpublic schools do not receive federal IDEA funding, they are not subject to the mandates of IDEA and are thus not required to offer special education services. The law requires nonpublic schools to indicate the special education services they provide, and this information is communicated to families in advance of the application period. Parents are advised to check with their school of choice before applying to ensure it is able to meet their child’s needs.”
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