Offer vouchers for special education: It would save money and improve quality

Marcus Winters:

About 13% of public school students in New York State are enrolled in special education. Educating each of them costs taxpayers many thousands of dollars more than it does to educate a regular student. With the financial crisis compelling Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other officials around the state to make cuts that have the least impact on services to which we have become accustomed, now is the time for them to give a special-education voucher program a second look. Aside from offering better educational outcomes, such a program would significantly reduce expenditures.
Contrary to popular belief, tuition charged by private schools, where vouchers can be used, is actually lower than public school per-pupil expenditures. Take Florida, which is home to the nation’s first voucher program for disabled students. Under the program, all disabled students are eligible for a voucher that is worth the lesser of the amount the public school would have spent on them or the tuition at a chosen private school. The value of the average voucher for disabled students there is $7,295. Not only is this far less than what the state spends to educate a disabled student in a public school, it is even below the state’s much lower average per-pupil cost of educating all students, both disabled and regular enrollment.
In other words, the public system actually saves money when it pays for students to attend private school, and even more money when those students are disabled.