Vouchers for Students with Disabilities: The Future of Special Education?

61 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2010 Last revised: 29 Aug 2010

See all articles by Wendy Fritzen Hensel

Wendy Fritzen Hensel

Georgia State University College of Law

Date Written: 2010


Many voices over the last decade have called for reform in special education in American public schools. As the number of those receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) has grown, scholars and pundits have increasingly argued that the system not only is failing to meet the needs of many children with disabilities, but in some cases is actively causing harm to those it is intended to serve.

Over the last several years, an increasing number of state legislatures have proposed or have passed laws that give children with disabilities public money to attend a private school. Rather than trying to fix the perceived deficiencies within the existing system, these states instead facilitate the exit of unhappy parents and students from public schools altogether. The evidence suggests that some voucher supporters have focused on children with disabilities because of the political viability of using vulnerable children as the first step towards universal school choice.

The momentum toward vouchers has the potential to make a significant and lasting impact on the manner in which children with disabilities are educated in the United States. Because most states require students receiving vouchers to waive their rights under the IDEA as a condition precedent to receiving state money, this impact will be felt not only at the state level, but also on federal policy going forward.

This article explores the impetus behind the voucher movement, the parameters of existing legislation, the legality of voucher programs, and the corresponding public policy consequences which follow their adoption.

Keywords: Education Law, Special Education, IDEA, Disability Law, Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Vouchers

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Hensel, Wendy Fritzen, Vouchers for Students with Disabilities: The Future of Special Education? (2010). Journal of Law & Education, Vol. 39, p. 291, 2010, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2010-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1652793

Wendy Fritzen Hensel (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-982-6803 (Phone)

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