School Choice on The Rise: Record Numbers for Special Needs Scholarship Applications

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New statistics indicate that when parents of special needs children are given the freedom to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their students, they take action.

Giving parents of children with special needs the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children just makes sense, and the numbers show that parents agree.

New statistics indicate that when parents of special needs children are given the freedom to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their students, they take action.

In fact, in four states with operational special needs scholarship programs, parents are applying for special needs vouchers in record numbers.

Just two months after being signed into law by Governor Sonny Purdue, Georgia's new Special Needs Scholarship program has been described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as "a hit" among parents.

More than 3,200 families filled out state applications to send their children to different schools as part of the program, and the state's education department has approved more than 100 private schools for participation.

In Utah, the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship has experienced a 402 percent increase in student participation since Governor Jon Huntsman signed the program into law in 2005. More than 40 private schools are now participating in the program, according to the Utah Department of Education.

Ohio, which offers an Autism Scholarship Program, has also seen participation in its program increase dramatically--by 81 percent--since its inception in 2004.

The nation's first special needs scholarship program, Florida's John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, saw a 15 percent increase in student participation from 2005 to 2006, according to the Florida Department of Education's McKay Scholarship Program quarterly report. More than 18,273 students participate in the program, a net increase of over 1700 percent since 2000, the first operational year of the program. More than 800 private schools participate in the program.

"At the end of the day, accountability for the quality of education rests with parents, and we're pleased that parents are making informed, practical decisions to improve their children's education" said Charles Hokanson, president of the Alliance for School Choice, which advocates for special needs scholarship programs. "Giving parents of children with special needs the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children just makes sense, and the numbers show that parents agree."

Data from a new program, the Scholarship for Pupils with Disabilities in Arizona, will be available next year. The program--initially beset by special-interest lawsuits, but continually upheld as constitutional--provides $2.5 million in public funds to provide grants to children with disabilities.

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