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Autism Voucher Scheme Would Undermine Special Education Efforts in Texas Public Schools

Senate Bill Modeled after Similar Schemes Peddled by Corporate-Funded Lobby Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 27, 2007

AUSTIN An expensive voucher scheme for students with autism would undermine efforts to ensure that public schools meet the needs of all of the state’s students with disabilities, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.

“Vouchers are touted as the magic bullet for problems faced by families of students with autism,” TFN President Kathy Miller said about Senate Bill 1000, which the Senate Education Committee is considering today. Miller was scheduled to testify at the hearing. “But what these vouchers would do is blow a hole through the special education budgets of public schools across the state.”

S.B. 1000 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, would grant a voucher worth up to $14,000 to any of the state’s more than 17,000 students diagnosed as having autism. As a result, the program’s potential cost to public school special education budgets is up to $240 million a year. The potential cost could even be more than double that figure. Sen. Shapiro acknowledges that far more Texas students 1 in 150 actually have autism. Experts suggest the ratio is as high as 1 in 100.

“We should be talking about a smarter, more cost-effective approach to helping all of our students with disabilities,” Miller said. “Instead we’re debating this proposal because the voucher lobby sees it as a foot in the door for an expanded voucher program later on.”

S.B. 1000 is modeled after a similar voucher program in Ohio and peddled by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in other states. Ohio’s program has already been expanded at massive cost to public schools there.

Worse, the experiences in Ohio and other states with voucher programs for students with autism have exposed serious problems:

Draining money from public schools limits the ability of those schools to provide the necessary services for students with autism and other disabilities.
Vouchers won’t cover the real costs of providing private care, leaving low- and middle-income families of children with autism with no access to the program.
Families outside metropolitan areas will find it difficult or impossible to find private service providers for their children with autism.

“Families of children with disabilities deserve real help, not false promises that drain money from neighborhood schools,” Miller said. “This bill would only make it harder for most families to get that help.”

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The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of religious and community leaders who advance a mainstream agenda supporting public education, religious freedom and individual liberties.

 

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