Students with special needs, such as those with learning disabilities or in foster care, should have access to learning environments best suited to their particular educational requirements.
This statement may sound like a bleeding heart rationale for increased public school funding, and it could be used that way. But it is from this very same premise that school-choice theory also stems.
Horace Mann once said education is the great equalizer. Although some may shudder at the words equality and egalitarianism in the context of government, conservatives who support school choice have no problem with the notion of an educational system that gives all children an equal chance to learn.
In an ideal, school-choice world, there would be no school districts, no school bureaucracies, and minimal administration. Instead, power would be returned to the people by placing educational choices in the hands of parents.
One vivid example of a school choice initiative aimed at making the playing field a little more level is the Arizona Scholarships for Pupils with Disabilities Program, which helps parents who have been unable to find a public school that can accommodate their children's specific educational needs.
The scholarship fund provides up to full tuition to help disabled children attend private schools that may be better equipped to deal with their unique circumstances. Last year, the Arizona Department of Education received 188 applications and approved 138 scholarships.
Though students benefit tremendously from attending schools that can cater to their needs, the Arizona Department of Education has done little to advertise the program. If the goal is, as Superintendent Tom Horne says, to assure students a better life, then the ADE should be shouting about this program from the rooftops.
Furthermore, eligibility for the program needs to be simplified. Not so long ago, an Arizona boy with Asperger's Syndrome was declared ineligible because he had attended an out-of-state school for a few months. His father, desperate after years of misdiagnoses and watching his son be shuffled between numerous ineffective classrooms, had refinanced his home to send the boy to a private school outside Arizona.
Eager to get his son back into an Arizona school, he applied for a disability scholarship, only to be denied. As it stands, the disability scholarship program only allows students who have been attending an Arizona public school for the previous 12 months that has failed to fulfill their needs to apply for a scholarship.
Senate Bill 1025 addresses this issue and was recently passed with bipartisan support. It broadens the eligibility requirements to ensure that disabled pupils wont be overlooked by an otherwise positive law.
Left and right can come together on the issue of school choice. The logical next question is this: If choice makes sense for kids with special needs, why not provide choice for all our children? Come to think of it, bleeding hearts and school choice are a match made in heaven.