Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Why Do the Special Kids Get All the Best Presents?

According to this op-ed, the Republicans are dusting off an old proposal to give school vouchers to special-ed students. I'm supportive, of course, though I'm bothered by the federal nature of the plan (the federal government having no constitutional authority in the area of education whatsoever). But I figure this is something that's probably already federalized, so adopting a more market-like approach probably won't hurt anything. Still, something strikes me as a little bizarre about applying voucher logic only in the case of the mentally challenged, as though run-of-the-mill (and gifted) students don't really need a better education system. If this proposal goes through, educational choice will effectively be available only to the rich and the retarded.

That's hyperbole, of course, since many middle class families manage to cough up the money for private school even while paying taxes into the public system. My point, though, is that educational choice is not affordable without vouchers to a substantial fraction of American families. Vouchers for special education students would be great, but they would do nothing for the vast majority of families with typical children.

Interestingly, as the op-ed observes, in the status quo special-ed students already have the ability to attend private schools with public funds when the public schools' special ed programs aren't up to snuff. If the public schools can't provide them with what they need, the justification goes, then let them go to the private sector. My question for those who support such private-school transfers for special-ed students is this: why not apply that justification to all students, including the poor and the middle class? If they (or their parents) feel the public schools don't provide them with what they need, let them go elsewhere. It's evident that many public schools are not just failing in special education - they are failing across the board. In this regard, special ed students aren't so special.

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