An article published today in the weekly Miami New Times about allegedly fraudulent and dangerous vouchers schools using Florida's McKay voucher program for children with disabilities raises interesting questions about the state's obligations under the federal government's basic special education law. I do not know the veracity of the claims in the article, but if some portion of them is true, it demonstrates an amazing neglect of these students' interests by the state of Florida, and apart from all the other issues related to voucher policies, it makes me wonder whether this violates Florida's obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A disclaimer here: I am not a lawyer and do not attempt to play one on television. Furthermore, while I am reasonably familiar with the basic structure of federal education law, I am neither expert on the longstanding regulations nor on changes in the last reauthorization (in 2004). But the claims in the Miami New Times are so outrageous that, if true, one could argue that the feds may well need to examine whether the state is failing its statutory obligations.
Here is the gist of those obligations: to receive money under Part B of IDEA, Florida made certain assurances to the federal government regarding its obligations as the state education agency. This includes the following:
- The state has an effective child-find provision.
- An IEP is provided for all eligible children.
- Students with disabilities are in the least restrictive environment (as close to nondisabled peers as is consistent with a free appropriate public education).
- Teachers of students with disabilities have the skills necessary to fulfill the state's obligations, including content expertise.
- All students with disabilities in public education programs are included in the state's assessment program.
- There will be appropriate financial controls to prevent fraudulent uses of federal IDEA funds.
There are some longstanding questions about IDEA and voucher programs (including the McKay voucher program). I do not know if there is any flow-through funding for McKay (where federal dollars go to the vouchers), but even if there is not a single federal cent in the McKay program, the state still has obligations to children with disabilities. Apart from the miserable conditions described in the article and concerns I have about longstanding double standards in accountability (i.e., in Florida, private vouchers schools are largely unaccountable in voucher programs with histories of fraud), if the article is even partly true, the state has been horribly neglectful in an area where the state has stated otherwise in its IDEA assurances.