Federal Report Says Voucher Programs Can Leave Disabled Students Behind

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer money, in September released a report showing that private school voucher programs are plagued with problems – especially for low-income students and students with disabilities.

The report looked at state voucher programs across the country, focusing on whether students with disabilities and from low-income families are receiving the proper federal services. It found that students who are entitled to receive services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Title I (a program for students from low-income areas) often did not receive them because they opted to use a private school voucher.  

In some instances, the GAO found that private schools don’t provide the necessary services because they are simply uninformed and confused about what types of services they are required to provide; in other cases, some private voucher schools have actually opted out of providing federally funded services simply because they said it would be too much of an administrative headache.

However, that’s not all the report found. Here are some of the GAO report’s other findings:

Private voucher schools discriminate in admitting students. Private schools in all but four voucher programs across the country can discriminate in the admission of students based on a variety of factors, such as disciplinary history, academic achievement and religious affiliation.

The money used to fund voucher programs often comes directly from the public school funding stream. For example, one-third of the funding for Milwaukee’s voucher program came from state funds that would have otherwise directly fund­ed the public school district for the 2014-15 school year.

Even with vouchers, many students can’t afford to attend private schools. Thirteen out of 22 voucher programs surveyed do not place a cap on private school tuition, meaning that a voucher may not cover the actual cost of attending private schools in the state.

Private voucher schools do not necessarily provide better education. Private voucher schools can teach religious doctrine and employ teachers without the same minimum education requirements that teachers in the public schools must have, such as bachelor’s degrees.

Private school voucher programs can harm public school students. The more students use vouchers to attend private schools, the more school districts must disperse limited federal IDEA and Title I funds throughout the district, meaning that public schools cannot always provide all the services they would like. 

The GAO has long been a watchdog of private school voucher programs. It has repeatedly chronicled the shortcomings of the Washington, D.C., private school voucher program, finding it to be lacking accountability at all levels of its administration.