In recent years, school choice options have expanded. As of January 2017, charter schools are allowed in 43 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools^. In addition, more than 30 states have programs that provide students with money to attend private schools^ or to be used for homeschooling. These programs may include state-funded school vouchers^, educational savings accounts^, and tax-credit scholarships. A small number of these states have programs specifically for students with disabilities to attend a private school, or a school other than the student’s assigned public school.
It’s important for parents to understand how school choice may affect their child’s rights and access to services. For example, public charter schools, including full-time virtual schools^ and magnet schools^, must follow all federal laws relating to students with disabilities. These schools have to provide special education services to students who need them.
By contrast, only certain parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to private schools. Title III of ADA prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of a disability and requires private schools to provide reasonable accommodations. But this part of the law does not apply to religious schools, which make up a large percentage of private schools.
Further, state law varies on whether rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) continue for students in special education who choose to use a voucher and attend a private school. In some states, when parents use voucher funds to enroll their child in a private school, they may waive their due process rights and services that the child is entitled to under IDEA. For example, Florida’s voucher program revokes a student’s IDEA rights, while Arizona’s program makes clear there is no state monitoring of compliance with student rights.15 It’s also important to note that when private schools are unable to meet a student’s need, the student may be sent back to his or her local public school.
Although alternatives to traditional public schools have some potential upsides, the table below explores the challenges that different types of schools may pose for students with learning and attention issues.