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Last Updated: 04/12/2018


 Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

IDEA 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

TO JOIN THE RRN: Send an email to and we'll add you to our distribution list. To read earlier Briefings, visit

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."


2. School administrators may pressure parents to elect a State voucher program as a way to remove a child who presents challenges from their jurisdiction.


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.

PRICE REDUCED-THE IDEA T-SHIRT: Wear a bright red IDEA and advertise your support of special education and civil rights for students with disabilities!

Design: is a red light-bulb face with electric hair that spells out Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the slogan is, "Whose IDEA Is It, Anyway?" White, with red DREDF logo on left sleeve and purple SEIU logo on right sleeve.

Specifications: heavyweight 100% cotton, U.S. made and union printed, available in Youth Large and Adult Large and Extra Large sizes.

Shirts are $12, plus $2.50 postage and handling. Buy 3 or more for $10 each. We don't have the capability to process online orders, but you can print out the order form from our website: and send checks to DREDF, 2212 Sixth St., Berkeley, CA 94710. The order form has an illustration of the shirt to check out also. Remember to specify quantity and size.

We are also offering these shirts as a special thank you to individuals who donate $100 or more for our work.

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