PHOENIX-In a study released today, Manhattan Institute scholars Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster find that Florida's McKay Scholarship Program has overwhelming support among parents of the special education children who receive vouchers through the program. The study's findings lend support to a Goldwater Institute proposal to use special education vouchers to combat pervasive racial bias by Arizona public school districts in the labeling of children as "learning disabled."
In Vouchers for Special Education Students: An Evaluation of Florida's McKay Scholarship Program (http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_38.htm), Greene and Forster present findings from the first empirical study of the McKay program's performance. Greene and Forster find:
- 92.7 percent of current McKay participants are satisfied or very satisfied with their McKay schools; only 32.7 percent were similarly satisfied with their public schools.
- 86 percent of current participants report that their McKay schools have provided all the services they promised to provide; only 30.2 percent of say they received all the services required under federal law from their public schools.
- Over 90 percent of parents who have left the program believe it should continue to be available to those who wish to use it.
- 71.7 percent of current participants and 75.8 percent of former participants report paying either nothing at all or less than $1,000 per year above the voucher amount.
- Per-pupil expenditures at McKay schools are the same or only slightly more than those at public schools.
In a study released in March by the Goldwater Institute, Children First America vice president Matthew Ladner finds pervasive racial bias by Arizona public school districts in the labeling of children as learning disabled. Disability rates for Hispanic students are 48 percent higher, and for African-American students are 29 percent higher, in White-dominate districts compared to minority districts. Dr. Ladner estimates that 10 percent of Arizona's disability cases, more than 8,000 students, may have been mislabeled by school districts attempting to qualify for increased funding under the state's "bounty funding formula," a formula that has been repudiated by Congress and by 16 states.
As a remedy, Ladner proposes using McKay-style vouchers to enable all disabled students to attend a public or private school of their parents' choice. The program would provide immediate help to more than 87,000 disabled students and save the state an estimated $50 million each year by reducing the incidence of mislabeling. 1,170 disabled students in Arizona already attend private schools at public expense.