A government watchdog is warning that families of students with disabilities need better information about their rights under federal special education law when deciding whether or not to take part in school choice programs.
Parents need to be better informed about the implications of moving their children with disabilities from public to private schools, a new government report concludes.
The number of vouchers and other private school choice programs allowing families to use public funds to pay for private schools has more than quadrupled in the last decade.
Even though more than half of these programs are solely for students with disabilities, families are often left in the dark about how moving to a private placement will alter their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said.
The investigative arm of Congress examined documents for all 27 school choice programs operating as of January, conducted interviews with officials at six of the largest programs, reviewed websites for hundreds of participating schools, and talked with families and other stakeholders.
GAO found that 83 percent of students with disabilities participating in a private school choice program were either provided with no information about how their rights under IDEA would be impacted by moving to a private setting or they were given information that contained inaccuracies.
And the information is meaningful, investigators noted. Under IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education, but that protection and others go out the window when students enroll at private schools even if it’s paid for through school choice programs.
Nothing in IDEA or in any U.S. Department of Education regulation requires parents to be told about these differing rights under federal special education law, GAO said.
“As more than half of the current private school choice programs are designed specifically for students with disabilities, it is critical that parents have access to quality information about changes in special education rights when they are considering moving their child from public to private school,” the report said.