Special Education Vouchers Reduce Special Education Label

Financial incentives matter.

A new study by Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters released this week by the Manhattan Institute shows that offering disabled students special education vouchers reduces the likelihood that public schools will identify students as disabled.

The reason special education vouchers restrained growth in disabilities, rather than exacerbate it, is that the vouchers check public schools’ financial incentives to identify more students as disabled. Public schools may get additional subsidies when they shift more students into special education, but if they then make students eligible for special education vouchers, they risk having those students walk out the door with all of their funding. It makes the public schools think twice before over-identifying disabilities for financial reasons. . . .

Nearly 1 in 7 students nationwide is now classified as having a disability. That’s 63% more than three decades ago. It’s clear that this huge increase in disabilities was not caused by a true increase in the incidence of disabilities in the population. No plague has afflicted our children over the last three decades to disable two-thirds more of them.

I wrote about the special education over-identification problem for Reason here.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.