Reauthorization Briefing: IDEA Parental Choice Act of 2003
From the Disability Rights
Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
IDEA Rapid Response Network (RRN), Briefing #22 March 26, 2003
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IDEA PARENTAL CHOICE ACT OF 2003: This is a companion bill to
H.R. 1350, the House "Improving Education Results for Children
with Disabilities Act" that proposes major revisions to IDEA.
Rep. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and House Education and the Workforce
Chairman Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) introduced this measure as
H.R. 1373 on March 20, 2003. RRN #21 included a brief forecast
of the bill from the press release. Now we have the text and can
present an analysis.
LANGUAGE: This bill uses positive-sounding language, talking
about innovation, "genuine independent choice," and academic
accountability. Our reading of the bill, however, suggests that
these terms are highly misleading.
IMPORT: The key to this bill is financial and other support for
state programs that allow IDEA funds to be used to pay part of
the tuition of private schools for students with disabilities.
Any child who has an IEP in place and has attended a public
school may receive funds to pay toward tuition, fees, and
transportation at a private school.
FUNDING: Federal IDEA funds may be used to augment the state
program funds for parents who choose this program. These funds
may also be used to pay for "reasonable additional expenses . .
. of any necessary accommodations to allow children with
disabilities who are being educated in a school identified for
school improvement . . . to be provided supplemental educational
services" if they are eligible. This section is written vaguely,
and it is hard to tell what the decision parameters would be for
funding allocations or what the services might include. Funds
may also be used for early intervention services to children
ages 3-5 if those services have an educational component.
* Private schools in this program are prohibited "from
discriminating against eligible students on the basis of race,
color, or national origin," but not on the basis of disability.
This is a key omission. Also left out of the anti-discrimination
platform are religion and gender, making it clear that
faith-based and same-sex schools may participate in the program.
* Private schools that receive these funds are required "to be
academically accountable to the parent for meeting the
educational needs of the student." That vague statement does not
include the requirement that the private school comply with or
provide the services specified in the child's IEP, though the
child must have an IEP in force in order to be eligible for the
program. Nowhere is academic accountability defined.
* If a parent participates in this program and uses state and
federal funds to pay for their child to attend a private school,
their participation "fulfills the State's obligation . . . with
respect to the child during the period in which the child is
enrolled in the selected school." In other words, if the child
does not receive FAPE at this school, the parent may not come
back to the State with a compensatory education claim.
* The bill states that "a private school accepting those funds
shall be deemed, for both the programs and services delivered to
the child, to be providing a free appropriate public education
and to be in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794)." Without any other provision than
that the school is part of the program and receives funds, it is
off the legal hook because it is automatically deemed in
compliance with the law. Note that this provision refers to
Section 504 but not to IDEA. This same provision holds for
private early intervention programs.
Throughout the bill, there is reference to the phrase "genuine
independent choice" for parents about the placement of their
children. There are two key fallacies to the imputation of
"genuine" and "independent" choices for families:
1. State programs, with Florida's McKay program serving as a
model, do not cover nearly the full cost of tuition and related
expenses for private school attendance. Thus many, many families
will lack the resources to benefit from this program and will
not have access to this "choice."
administrators may pressure parents to elect a State voucher
program as a way to remove a child who presents challenges from
3. Parents who
make this "genuine independent choice" will lose their legal
rights and protections under IDEA, which is not applicable to
private schools even when they receive State and Federal funding
for this program.
The DREDF/People for the American Way report on the Florida
program used as a model for this bill, Jeopardizing a Legacy: A
Closer Look at IDEA and Florida's Disability Voucher Program, is
available on the DREDF website:
This report goes into detail about the failings of programs such
as the one this bill proposes.
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