Andy Spears of the Tennessee Education Report says sponsors of Tennessee’s new education savings account program for children with special needs don’t know much about the bill they just passed.
But it may be Spears who doesn’t understand the bill, as he spends more time speculating on parental rights than explaining what it would do. He also also incorrectly claims that Florida started a “similar program” in 1999.
First, let’s address Tennesee’s new school choice bill. The apparent confusion likely stems from a tendency among critics of private school choice to label all such programs as “vouchers.” Tennessee could soon become the fifth state to implement a flavor of school choice known as education savings accounts, which are different from traditional vouchers.
The new program would allow parents of students with Individualized Education Plans access to education savings accounts worth up to $6,600. The accounts will allow parents to pay for private school tuition, fees, textbooks, school supplies, curriculum, tutoring, exam fees, services contracted by a public school (including individual classes and extracurricular activities), college savings accounts, as well pay for therapies with the child’s physician and more. There is a similar program in Florida, but it started in 2014, not 1999.The remainder of Spears’ article is dedicated to worrying about parent’s losing their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA was established to ensure that children with special needs had equal access to public education. Since its requirements don’t apply the same way to private schools in the same way as public schools, he worries students won’t get the services they would receive in a public school.
It is a fair concern, but Spears should stop and wonder why so many parents in Florida are have chosen private schools or home education. He might also wonder why, if IDEA ensured every child’s needs were met, a cottage legal industry of parent advocates has sprouted up to sue school districts on behalf of shortchanged students.
For some parents, having a choice protects their children’s rights more effectively than any regulation. It might not be for everyone, but neither is the status quo.