Vouchers Threaten Rights of Students with Disabilities: Here’s What You Need to Know

September 26, 2019

Parents and advocates of children with disabilities who are considering enrollment in a private, including religious, school using a state-funded voucher need comprehensive information about the negative effects on students’ rights to special education programs and services under federal and state law.

The impact of private school vouchers on students with disabilities was explored by Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) in a recent webinar hosted by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). The webinar was led by Jessica Levin, Senior Attorney at Education Law Center and PFPS Project Director.

The webinar offers an in-depth look at private school voucher programs, particularly so-called “special education vouchers” marketed to students with disabilities to attend private schools as an alternative to a public education. About a dozen states operate voucher programs targeted to students with disabilities eligible for special education programs in public schools.

The webinar also provides detailed information on the myriad ways that using a voucher to attend a private school negatively affects the civil rights and educational opportunities of students with disabilities, as well as the reverberating effects on students in public schools. This information is especially important because private schools participating in voucher programs and the states operating the programs often do not inform parents that their children will forfeit special education rights by enrolling in the voucher school.

Finally, the webinar suggests strategies for defending the rights of students with disabilities in the voucher context and fighting private school voucher programs that divert resources public schools need to adequately serve all students.

For additional information on the ways that voucher programs impact students with disabilities, visit the Research Page on the PFPS website.

PFPS is a national campaign led by Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center to ensure that public funds for education are used to maintain and support public schools and that all students can attend a thriving public school in their community. Protecting the educational rights and opportunities of vulnerable student groups that are harmed by voucher programs, including students with disabilities, is a critical part of this mission. PFPS is grateful to NDRN for the opportunity to present a webinar on this important topic.

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