A popular knock against vouchers and other school choice programs is that private schools do not serve many students with disabilities, whereas public schools serve everyone. If that’s true, then the vast majority of public schools in New York City must actually be private.
According to a federal investigation just rejected by the de Blasio administration, the large majority of New York City elementary schools – 83 percent – are not “fully accessible” to students with disabilities. That forces many disabled students to travel far afield from their local public schools, which are supposed to serve every zoned child. The U.S. Department of Justice's letter to the city laying all this out contains this anecdote:
In the course of our investigation, we spoke to one family who went to extreme measures to keep their child enrolled in their zoned local school, rather than subject the child to a lengthy commute to the closest "accessible" school. A parent of this elementary school child was forced to travel to the school multiple times a day, every school day, in order to carry her child up and down stairs to her classroom, to the cafeteria, and to other areas of the school in which classes and programs were held.
Of course, it is unrealistic to expect that every school is going to be able to provide the best possible education for every child – all kids learn different things at different rates and have different strengths and weaknesses – but it is especially true for children with disabilities. Yet while the public schools often fall lightyears short of the goal, that is the standard to which public schooling advocates love to hold schools in choice programs. And not only is it unrealistic no matter what, but vouchers are usually a fraction of the funding public schools get, averaging around $7,000, versus New York City’s nearly $19,000 per pupil.
The scope of NYC’s failure to live up to the ideal is sobering, but revelations of double standards on this front are not new. School districts often pay for kids with the most challenging disabilities to attend private institutions, and there are several choice programs that are, in fact, specifically designed for children with disabilities. But maybe now, before choice opponents attack private schools again, they’ll at least try to get their own house in order. Or in New York City, their hundreds of houses not fully serving disabled children.