School choice can be a solution in Special Education

April 4, 2024 | Sharon Sedlar

John Kristof’s recent article, “How School Choice Serves Special Needs Students,” really hits the mark. I consistently encounter families seeking assistance from school districts for their students with special needs. However, the process, including IEP meetings, often leaves parents feeling dissatisfied and helpless. Despite reaching out to education advocates, community liaisons, the PDE Dept of Special Education, or attorneys, they find little relief, as they are overburdened, understaffed, or even unresponsive.

Not every family can afford private or specialized education facilities. Consequently, these families and their children are left in survival mode, until they can no longer cope.

Eventually, they rise up to challenge the system again, pleading for assistance. In some cases, help does arrive, but it can come years later. In many cases, not until after an attorney gets involved and the child has significantly fallen behind their peers.

This critique isn’t aimed at the school district, but rather at the system itself. Due to paperwork, staffing, and funding issues, the system is too slow to respond to a child’s needs and is often incapable of pivoting as required.

School choice could give parents the power to move their child, along with part of the attached funding, to an option that better suits them, thereby making it more financially feasible. Another possible school choice policy could allow parents to cross zip code boundaries to attend another district school.  Many other solutions exist.

Being a parent is hard (but worth it, we know!); a parent of a child with special needs even more so.  While many won’t personally experience the struggles with special needs, we’ve all been there – where we could do better “if only.”  Let’s not leave a child to “if only” and regrets, but rather work to fix this issue – now.

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