Other Voices

School choice gives a better chance for special ed students

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is a longtime advocate of school choice proposals in the Texas Legislature.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is a longtime advocate of school choice proposals in the Texas Legislature. rmallison@star-telegram.com

School choice will be a prominent topic in the upcoming Texas legislative session.

It has many supporters in the Legislature, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Some of the beneficiaries of school choice include children who need specialized assistance to help them obtain their education.

Many children in special ed are thrown into public school classrooms where the “one size fits all” learning style does not work for them.

Instead of receiving accommodations, children in special ed are often labeled “disruptive” and given detention. How is a special ed student learning anything when he or she is put into detention multiple times a month?

I know what it’s like to be a special ed student — I was one of them.

I was born with Turner’s Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes different physical and mental deficiencies.

In my case, it caused me to have multiple problems, including low muscle tone, scoliosis, nonverbal learning disorder and poor fine motor skills.

As a child, I needed assistance from many specialized therapists and administrators in school.

In many ways, I was lucky. I lived in Pleasanton, Calif., which had a wealthy school district where they could afford some specialized therapists and teachers.

But even then, there weren’t enough resources to help every special ed student. Many still fell through the cracks.

So, if wealthy school districts don’t have enough resources to help special ed students, can you imagine what it’s like in the inner cities?

In places where failing schools don’t even have enough supplies and funding to assist students that aren’t in special ed?

If you’re a special ed student in one of these failing schools, it’s very likely you won’t get any help.

You won’t have a nurse on call every day, speech therapists or adaptive PE teachers.

Your parents won’t be able to arrange for specialized transportation to get you to school.

And, more importantly, you won’t find anyone in the administration looking out for you.

School choice opens up so many doors for special ed students.

For example, lifting the cap on charter schools will allow parents to enroll their children into schools that can better accommodate special ed students compared to traditional public schools.

Charter schools can provide special ed students with customizable schedules and work with parents to find out which services their special ed student needs to do well in school.

I have a friend who is a special ed teacher in California. She told me that many charter schools go for more hands-on learning than traditional public schools, and students with special needs have higher levels of inclusion with their classmates.

Education savings accounts are another way that school choice benefits special ed children.

Parents can use the funds in ESAs to purchase specialized services, supplies and courses that their children need, such as therapists, tutors, specialized vans to help children with physical disabilities get to and from school, and even online coursework.

Parents can also customize their child’s education through course choice programs and innovative learning methods.

Instead of being at the mercy of the public education system, school choice gives parents the power to choose which services and courses would be best suited for their special ed student.

They would get the services they need to learn in a way that makes sense to them.

Special ed students in the inner cities would have as good a chance of succeeding as those in wealthy cities.

Parents would no longer feel frustrated that their child isn’t getting specialized services at a failing public school, and special ed students would finally be able to focus on learning new lesson plans.

School choice definitely offers a better chance of success for special ed students and their parents.

Rebecca Hucker is a writer, activist and former special ed student who lives in Cedar Park, near Austin.