A New Government Report Shows Private School Voucher Programs Fail To Provide Information, Especially To Families Of Students With Disabilities

Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released yet another report detailing the failures of private school voucher programs across the country.

Like its previous reports, which have focused on the lack of oversight and quality controls in the Washington, D.C., voucher program as well as the lack of services provided to students with disabilities and low-income students, this report finds that voucher programs frequently fail to provide parents with sufficient information about students’ rights and services.

Specifically, it found that most private school voucher programs do not provide necessary or even accurate information to parents of students with disabilities about the rights those students forfeit by enrolling at a private voucher school.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided with certain rights and services in public schools, including a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.

But students who leave the public schools with a voucher forfeit many of those protections because they are considered parentally placed in private schools. For example, students accepting vouchers are not entitled to FAPE or to the due process rights that students in public schools have. 

Many parents are not aware that they are giving up those rights when enroll their child in a private school voucher program. In fact, the report found that one-third of all voucher programs across the country do not provide any information to parents about the loss of procedural safeguards and due process protections under IDEA. 

Public money should fund public schools, which educate 90 percent of American children

For students enrolled in disability-specific programs, GAO found that 83 percent of these students were in a program that provided either no information or inaccurate information about changes in IDEA rights. And, it found that the private schools themselves also failed to provide relevant information to prospective families. No more than 53 percent of private schools in voucher programs designed for students with disabilities provided disability-related information on their websites.

GAO interviewed families of students in voucher programs, who indicated that the lack of information was problematic. One family said that “they were surprised to learn that teachers providing special education services to their child were not trained to provide those services.” And another parent described “changing schools because they learned aspects of their child’s disability could not be accommodated only after enrolling their child in a school.”

The fact that many private school voucher programs fail to provide the information necessary for parents of students to make informed decisions undercuts the argument that voucher provide any meaningful choice to parents.

For this report, GAO also looked at private school voucher programs’ accountability mechanisms. It found academic and financial accountability measures to be lacking. In fact, one-third of the programs examined had no academic testing requirement; one-third of the programs did not require any specific teacher credentials or qualifications; and only one-third of programs required schools to report test scores publicly. And, more than three-quarters of students participating in voucher programs were in a program that did not require annual audits to receive funding.

We already know that voucher programs fail to adequately serve students with disabilities. But the lack of information is especially detrimental to the students and families who rely on services that they will no longer receive if they choose to use a voucher. This GAO report provides further evidence that vouchers don’t work, and that they harm students.

For more information and other studies highlighting vouchers’ flaws, check out the National Coalition of Public Education’s website.