February 3, 2016
School choice continues to generate debate in state legislatures, even as several states move toward offering their students options beyond the K-12 public school setting. However, given the particular circumstances of children with special needs, less debate and controversy has surrounded the implementation of school choice programs for students in special education classrooms. Since state governments have a constitutional obligation to provide an education to all children, creating more educational options for children with special needs has the most potential for providing them the best education possible. Meanwhile, considering that the average annual cost of a special education student is $9,369 above the norm, the provision of legally required additional services for special needs students can prove costly for public schools with a small student population, where economies of scale are not feasible. Allowing and supplying additional school options for special education students, in these cases, may provide savings for schools unable to provide cost-effective specialized services for the limited number of students requiring them.
This SLC Regional Resource examines the strategies taken by Southern states to increase school options for special education students through the implementation of state-funded school voucher programs, focusing on their many forms and variations, and addresses school voucher programs that provide direct payments or reimbursements to private alternative schools or parents and legal guardians, respectively. While several strategies beyond school voucher programs, such as tax credits and educational savings accounts, have been implemented as additional strategies to increase school choice, these programs are not included within this Regional Resource.