The state of education in America is rapidly changing. Declining budgets, increased federal expectations, and diminished standing globally have triggered numerous calls for reform and innovation. One of the most popular responses by state legislatures to date has come in the form of vouchers for students to attend private schools. While much has been written about vouchers generally, few scholars have researched the impact that vouchers have on children who receive special education services. Some states have adopted special vouchers reserved exclusively for students with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Others have more wide-ranging voucher statutes that extend eligibility to a broad range of students, including many children with disabilities. Whether such programs specifically target students with disabilities or not, there is no question that they have a unique impact on this vulnerable population that is not adequately understood.
Several years ago, I wrote about the numerous concerns such programs may pose, both for the students with disabilities who matriculate into private schools, and for those who are left behind in the public schools. Since the publication of that article, a number of states have joined the voucher bandwagon, and new legal challenges have been posed. This Article will briefly explore these new developments. Section II details recent legislation creating voucher programs specifically aimed at students with disabilities and evaluates the legal challenges filed in some states to stop their implementation. Section III explores recent developments in two states, Wisconsin and Louisiana, with general population voucher programs that may have significant implications for students with disabilities. Section IV evaluates recent evidence shedding light on the effectiveness of voucher programs for students with disabilities, and Section V concludes with a call for further research assessing the true impact of vouchers on this population.