Does a school choice bill to be considered in the upcoming state legislature reflect a commendable effort to address deficiencies in public school special education, or are proponents overselling the benefits in order to open the door for private school vouchers?
The idea that parents should have more publicly funded educational options for their children – popularly known as school choice – has long been hotly debated around the country, but has failed to get much attention in Kentucky.
That changed earlier this year, when a bill was filed for consideration by the 2007 General Assembly that would allow parents of children with special needs to use tax dollars to pay for their children’s education at any school they choose, including private and parochial schools. (Special needs generally refer to physical, mental, emotional or learning disabilities.)
Political lines already are being drawn on the bill, filed by state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington. Critics say it would be a first step toward school vouchers for all Kentucky students, draining tax dollars from public schools.
Supporters don’t deny that they hope the bill opens the door for vouchers for all, but also argue that it addresses an issue of great concern to many Kentucky families. Lee himself said he has “no designs on anything beyond that.”
Both sides agree that Kentucky’s current system of educating students with special needs has significant deficiencies that need addressing. Among other things, they say, Lee’s bill will draw attention to this important subject.
The Public Life Advocate examined the arguments for and against the bill and how it might affect students with special needs in Daviess and surrounding counties. Generally, local school officials say the bill might not make a lot of difference, because public and private schools already collaborate to serve special needs students.