Children with disabilities are often poorly served by public schools. In 1999, Florida created a school voucher for children with disabilities called the McKay Scholarship Program. This program allows children with disabilities to take a portion of the funding the state would spend on their education and use it at any school they choose – whether that’s a traditional public school, a charter school, an online program, or a private school. Researchers have found that the program significantly improved learning among Florida’s children with disabilities. Ohio, Utah, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Louisiana have enacted voucher programs emulating McKay.
In 2006 Arizona also implemented a program for special needs children modeled on McKay, along with a separate voucher program for children in foster care. Unfortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down these programs based on a provision in the Arizona Constitution called the Blaine Amendment. The Blaine Amendment prohibits aid or support to religious schools and 37 states have similar provisions.
The Arizona Supreme Court, however, implied in its ruling that there is a way to structure a program that would be compatible with the Blaine Amendment. This report offers a blueprint for creating that program based on the Arizona Supreme Court’s very own suggestion: the State should give education funds directly to parents and allow them to spend the money on a wide range of options and services.
This report recommends creating Education Savings Accounts into which the state would donate funds in exchange for parents agreeing not to enroll their child in a public school. Parents would be free to use the money for a wide range of educational services, including private school tuition. Not only should judges find such these accounts constitutional, but they would also hold distinct advantages over school vouchers. Those advantages include allowing students to save for college and encouraging the creation of innovative low-cost, high quality online and hybrid school models.