Meet voucher supporters' new fellow strategists: students with disabilities.
Creating private school vouchers for special education students—programs that are largely unchallenged in court, unlike other publicly financed tuition vouchers—can be the perfect way to clear a path for other students to get school options, according to school choice proponents.
With this approach, "there is more success legislatively," said Malcolm Glenn, a spokesman for the Washington-based American Federation for Children. The group advocates school choice, focusing its efforts on tuition vouchers and scholarship tax-credit programs.
"Our opposition is more worried about appearing that they're standing in the way of special-needs kids' getting a good education," Mr. Glenn said. "We don't really care [about] the reason they don't oppose the legislation. If we can benefit from that reticence, ... we're OK with that."
At least seven states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah—have voucher programs for students with disabilities, and some of those have multiple programs. At least another 10 state legislatures are considering new voucher offerings targeted at special education this legislative session.
In addition, Georgia lawmakers have proposed a change to their program this session that would make it simpler for students who want a voucher to qualify for one by waiving a requirement that a student has attended a Georgia public school in the prior year.
In an article published in November in the public-policy journal National Affairs, Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the conservative, pro-school-choice Manhattan Institute, based in New York City, said it would be a poor decision to dismiss the strategy of using special education vouchers as a driver for the movement as a whole.
"But one of the fastest-growing types of school choice program does not fit the typical voucher mold," Mr. Winters wrote in the article. "It is certainly a mistake, however, to overlook one of the most promising avenues for advancing school choice: voucher programs serving students with disabilities."