In this NPR interview, the plight of parents who take vouchers is exposed. Parents explain their search and frustrating when choosing private schools; they lose their right to have their children served. If they are dissatisfied, their only recourse is to try a different school. When their child has a disability, there may be no school within reach that will accept the child. Attorney and League member Kimberley Spire-Oh provided the information leading to these interviews.
Some background on Florida public school support for students with exceptionalities provides perspective on the availability of support for these children whether in public or private schools.
Teachers certified to work with children with disabilities are scarce and tend to work for public, not private schools. Supporting these children in private schools is expensive, and they have no obligation to accept children. The State provides McKay Scholarships for students to attend a private school if they have an IEP or 504 program . For students with a high level disability defined in law, Gardiner Scholarships are available. Having the scholarship allows parents to shop in the private sector for a school. It does not require private schools to accept those students.
Parents have the right to send their children to public schools, but not to private schools. You can see the right for your child to be education on the Office of Civil Rights website. An overview of the disability discrimination laws that protect children’s right to a public education are here. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the responsibilities that public schools have.
Support for educating students with disabilities is dependent upon funding. This year funding for students in public schools from federal IDEA sources was reduced to $1,301 per student.
The Florida Department of Education website for Exceptional Student Education is located here. State ESE funding is part of the FEFP per student funding formula and included $1,055,304,596. Note that the funding is part of the weighted per student state allocation. Weighting is the same for ESE students as for other students except for Levels four and five. These students with higher level disabilities receive more intense, specialized services as defined here.
We need to do a study of the every day realities of providing support for students with exceptionalities.