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Federal advisory body’s new report series focuses on charter schools and school choice vouchers

Thursday, November 15, 2018

For Immediate Release

Nov. 15, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Council on Disability—an independent federal agency—today released two companion reports on the impact of school choice policies on students with disabilities.

The reports, titled, Charter Schools – Implications for Students with Disabilities and Choice and Vouchers – Implications for Students with Disabilities, examine school choice policies pertaining to charter schools and school choice vouchers across the nation.

“From the federal level to local schools, many parents and policymakers are seeking information about charters and vouchers, so these two new NCD reports could not be more timely,” said NCD Council Member Wendy Harbour, Ed.D. “Discussions of charters and vouchers are often highly polarized and politicized, so these reports are also remarkable for a refreshingly objective look at the challenges and opportunities for students with disabilities in charter schools or voucher programs.”

The concept of “school choice,” in the form of charter schools – publicly funded schools that are privately managed and operate under a contract – and vouchers that provide families with federal and state funding to send students to private schools, is a relatively new education policy development. The first charter school law was enacted in 1991, sixteen years after the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA) made it clear that children with disabilities were entitled to a public education. In 2003, NCD’s School Vouchers and Students with Disabilities report noted just one voucher program for students with disabilities in the U.S. Since that time, 44 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have enacted charter school statutes and 27 states now have voucher programs, with 11 offering programs exclusively for students with disabilities.

Charter Schools – Implications for Students with Disabilities provides an in-depth overview of the education landscape for students with disabilities in charter schools. Charter schools are public schools and must comply with federal and state laws such as IDEA, but NCD found that some charter schools fail to provide special education programming and services to their students with disabilities. However, some charter schools have developed innovative educational approaches for students with disabilities that can serve as models for all schools.

In view of the diversity of experience with charter schools, the report offers recommendations to federal and state agencies and to Congress that will help ensure charter schools are successful in meeting the unique learning needs of students with disabilities and address problems that may deprive students with disabilities and their families of an equitable education. Finally, the report addresses the issue of students with disabilities who do not attend charter schools, but who may find themselves left behind in under-resourced traditional public schools that are unable to meet their needs.

The second of the two reports, Choice and Vouchers – Implications for Students with Disabilities outlines the availability and usage of vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax credits for students, including those with disabilities. As of the 2015–2016 school year, more than 88,000 families have chosen to take their children out of public school utilizing available state-funded choice options. The report explains how this adjustment in the flow of public funds results in critical and often misunderstood changes in protections for students with disabilities and their families, under IDEA and federal nondiscrimination laws.

NCD found that while some families experience that private schools are able to meet the needs of children with disabilities better than public schools, parents and families using vouchers can lose access to IDEA rights; accountability can suffer; and vouchers might only cover a portion of private school cost, leaving a majority of families unable to access any choice at all. The report concludes with recommendations for federal and state departments of education and Congress including topics such as extra costs often assumed by families when a child with a disability is attending private school; ensuring parents are fully informed about their options and rights when they are making a decision about their child’s education; and protection from discrimination.

Read the reports at


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An official website of the National Council on Disability