PHOENIX - The Arizona legislature is under funding special education programs by $200 million per year, according to an Arizona Department of Education study released April 15. Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials told the press, "What it means is districts are taking money out of regular education programs to pay for special education."
But more than money is at stake. Recent medical studies indicate widespread misapplication of special education services-labeling children who in fact have no physical or neurological disability. Even worse, Goldwater Institute research indicates that the primary victims of over-enrollment in special education programs are minority students attending predominantly white school districts. On May 10, the Goldwater Institute will release a study focusing on individual school-level data from the federal government's 2000 Office for Civil Rights Elementary and Secondary School Survey. The findings show:
? American Indian and Hispanic males are labeled at a rate 64 percent higher in schools 75 percent or more White when compared to schools that are 25 percent or less White.
? Possible perverse incentives for schools to misapply special education include a mistaken attempt to use special education as remediation, poor early reading instruction, exemption of students from standardized testing to improve school rankings, revenue maximization, and segregationist impulses.
The Goldwater Institute recommends adoption of a plan similar to Florida's McKay Scholarship Program. The program gives all of Florida's special education students a scholarship equal to the amount of general and special education funds provided for each student's education. Parents can use the scholarship to transfer their children to a public or eligible private school of their choice. Over 12,000 students currently use the McKay program, and a recent survey of participating parents demonstrated strong levels of parental satisfaction.
Establishing a special education scholarship in Arizona would save public schools thousands of dollars for each student who transfers, freeing additional resources for general education. Such a program would also give parents the right to choose the school that best meets their children's needs, and reduce incentives for minority mislabeling.
Contact: Dr. Matt Ladner, Director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Economic Prosperity, (602) 462-5000 x 227, firstname.lastname@example.org