Many thanks to Jenny Smithson, Governmental Affairs Co-chair for ICASE (Indiana Council of Administrators for Special Education) for presenting during ICPE’s special Presidents Day webinar. Please find her remarks below. The official ICASE position on ESAs and Voucher expansion can be found here

ICASE Opposes Education Scholarship Accounts/ Choice Scholarships

“Good afternoon everyone– the Indiana Council for Administrators of Special Education sees the expansion of choice scholarships and the introduction of educational scholarship accounts as having a significant risk of harming students with disabilities.

The provision of special education is a civil right protected by Federal and state laws. Students with disabilities need comprehensive and coordinated services related to their educational needs. Without appropriate understanding of those needs and coordination of services, this will lead to further gaps in learning for students.

Private schools often accept a student without much thought to the amount of support the student might need or the specially designed instruction their staff will need to provide on a daily basis. Once enrolled and the money is spent, without proper support and services, many students will and do fail. As a Director of Special Education, I have seen it happen time and time again.

The private school will indicate that they cannot meet the needs of the family and their only recourse is to re-enroll in the public school system without the option of any safeguards including dispute resolution. Indiana Law does not allow mediation or due process for private school unless it is related to child find, eligibility, or the appropriateness of an evaluation. Nothing with regard to appropriate services. Why is that? Let’s explore that further.

By enrolling in a private school or by choosing to homeschool, parents give up the right to a FAPE.

Federal and state law mandates that a student with a disability receive FAPE–a free, appropriate, public education–the operative word is PUBLIC. By enrolling in a private school or by choosing to homeschool, parents give up the right to a FAPE. Private schools like to promise the world without having the real discussion with parents about what they are giving up. More times than I can count, what actually occurs is the family is told the private school cannot meet the child’s needs and they must enroll back in public school. When they do so, we try to pick up the pieces without the funding.

How much longer will public schools be expected to do more with less? Less funding (for specialized therapies, programming, supplies, and equipment) and less qualified teachers (due to an ever-growing shortage because our legislators refuse to address teacher pay directly and instead divert funding away from public schools).

For those who don’t know, special education costs a lot of money. In fact it eats up a significant portion of a public school district’s budget. There is no way one ESA or choice scholarship will pay for the tuition, tutoring, therapies, supplies, equipment, transition, and wrap around services that a child with a disability needs to to be successful in school. The reason public school works is that we are able to pool those resources in one place and provide the full continuum of services. Private schools just don’t have that capacity.

So let me be clear–There is no path to “yes” on HB 1005, SB 412, and SB 413. Why?

Because there is no accountability for educational outcomes to the state or to parents.

Because there is no growth requirement.

Because there are no guardrails to limit fraud from unregulated companies that will make empty promises to fix your child with disability.

Because there are no policies to prevent enrollment discrimination toward students with more significant disabilities.

And because Indiana families deserve the truth–the truth is that private schools are not the best choice for students with disabilities. If you want a FAPE for your child, which is their right, you will find that in your public school. Tell your legislators to oppose HB 1005, SB 412, and SB 413.

Thank you.”

Jenny Smithson

Director for the Delaware Blackford Special Education Cooperative
Governmental Affairs Co-Chair for ICASE

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