Just 35 enrolled in TN voucher program for students with disabilities

Tennessee’s first school voucher program, applying only to student with disabilities, has enrolled just 35 students in its first three months of operation out of a estimated 20,000 who are eligible, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee. Parents of the enrolled students get up to $6,000 per year in taxpayer funds to spend on private schools.

Officials say they never expected big enrollment, but are heartened by the program’s potential to grow.

Tennessee lawmakers passed the Individualized Education Act in 2015 to give students with certain disabilities public money for private services such as homeschooling, private school tuition, and tutoring. The catch: Students must leave their public school and waive their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which mandates that all students receive a “free and appropriate” public education. That type of program has been lauded by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has said they “empower” parents to make the best decisions for their children.

But in its first year, only 130 families applied for Tennessee’s program. Just a third of those applications actually were approved, and even fewer ultimately decided to participate.

Many forces conspired to keep the number low. For one, the program started in the middle of the school year, a time when parents are unlikely to want to shake up their child’s education.

Plus, only eight private schools got the state’s approval to accept students using vouchers. Many private schools aren’t set up to deal with different disabilities.

Often, private schools charge far more than $6,000, with the tuition at Memphis-area private schools topping out at more than $20,000 a year. Public schools on average spend about $16,000 per special education student.

3 Responses to Just 35 enrolled in TN voucher program for students with disabilities

  • Michael Lottman says:

    Nobody should be enrolled in this stupid and deceptive program that leaves parents essentially alone
    (not “empowered”) to find an education for their children with disabilities that simply cannot be had for $6,000. So they wind up in schools that are not specifically required to, and probably cannot, meet the requirements of federal law for education of children with disabilities. Besides, the families must give up their rights under federal education law even to get into this wonderful program. This so-called voucher arrangement seems obviously intended primarily to save money, and also to help affluent or quasi-affluent parents take their kids out of the public schools where they may not like the ambience.

  • Vicki Ann Watts says:

    My child is an award of the State and he recives disability. Is he eligible for a grant to attend private school.

  • Yasmin says:

    My child is autistic severe don’t know where to apply for school help
    He is non verbal

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