By Brian Washington
It sounds like an idea that would have no trouble getting through a Republican-controlled committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. But in the case of an amendment that would give a $7,500 voucher to special needs students of military families to attend private schools, the “devil” is in the details.
The Full Armed Services Committee on Wednesday unexpectedly voted down the amendment, offered by Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA), 34 to 26. Many Republicans voted against the measure because they thought it was too costly.
NEA, which opposes siphoning off public tax dollars to fund private schools, played a key role in the amendment going down. The Association joined forces with a broad coalition of grassroots-based, community groups—including the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education—to oppose the amendment.
Students with special needs who attend Department of Defense schools already receive an excellent education—thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA provides complete services for students with special needs and will even cover the cost of a private school if doing so is necessary to ensure that these students receive full services.
“The Hunter amendment is completely unnecessary,” said Kim Anderson, NEA Director of Government Relations. “At a time when Congress is proposing drastic reductions in federal spending, including a House-passed bill slashing billions from core education programs, there is no reason to divert scare resources to vouchers.”
The Hunter amendment, which Anderson called bad public policy, contained other drawbacks as well. It only funded 250 vouchers, and those students who accepted the voucher would no longer be eligible for protections under IDEA.
A $7,500 voucher is not going to cover the cost of educating a student with special needs and, more importantly, is not real education reform. Our elected leaders need to focus on proven strategies that improve student achievement—like reducing class sizes, strengthening teacher training, and increasing parental involvement.
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