“Special Needs” Status Tied to Warped Incentives

Marcus Winters and Jay Greene from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research have released a study that shows that offering disabled students special education vouchers reduces the likelihood that public schools will identify students as disabled. This counters counters a Progress Policy Institute in the past has said that special education vouchers exacerbate the over-identification problem by creating an incentive for parents to have children diagnosed with a disability in order to obtain a voucher.

However, Winters and Greene contend that the financial incentives facing public schools are such that public schools tend to identify more and more students as disabled. There are finacial incentives in place to shift more students into special education because the schools get more subsidies for each student classified as disabled. Also, school staff normally control the process of identifying students as disabled, not the parents.

Nearly one in every seven students nationwide is now classified as having a disability. That’s 63 percent more than three decades ago. The reason for this is that public schools get additional subsidies when they shift students into special education, but if the students are eligible for special education vouchers, they risk having those students walk out the door with all their funding.