Helping Kids, Saving Money

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NEW YORK — New York State can save money on special education by shifting to a new funding system and can improve parental satisfaction with special education programs by offering a universal voucher for disabled students, according to a report issued today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

The report — by University of Arkansas professor and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jay P. Greene and Manhattan Institute senior research associate Marcus A. Winters — cites national research in support of these key findings:

New York special education enrollment has risen significantly more than necessary since the beginning of the 1990s because the state’s “bounty” system of funding encourages districts to “over-classify” youngsters as being in need of special education services.

New York would have enrolled 17,715 fewer students in special education, saving $220 million a year, if had instead provided special education aid to school districts on a “lump sum” basis starting in 1994-95.

In addition to switching funding formulas, the report concludes that New York should adopt a voucher program for disabled students. Based on the highly successful McKay Scholarship Program in Florida, this program would give parents and students flexibility to choose the public or private school that best suits their needs with a voucher worth 100 percent of the amount the state currently spends on that child.

Greene and Winters contend that employing a special education voucher program in New York would help tame the growth of special education enrollments caused by the financial incentives of bounty based systems, while dramatically increasing parental satisfaction with their child’s education.