School choice efforts aim to provide every child in America with access to an education that best serves their unique educational needs. This is why school choice is not just helpful, but essential to children with special needs and learning disabilities.

Unfortunately, the state of Texas has famously failed this vulnerable group of students.

But, there is hope for a remedy. Earlier this month, Texas state senators introduced a parental rights and education freedom bill in the state house. The bill would create education savings accounts (ESAs) of up to $8,000 for Texas students to use for private school tuition, books, and other education-related expenses. The proposed ESAs pull funding from the state’s General Revenue, not Texas public school funds, which also allows ESA students to be free from federal mandates.

Disagreements between parents and school district over the education of Texas students with special needs have led to many fraught legal battles in the state in the past. Parents of children with special learning needs have resorted to legal action in an effort to ensure their child is receiving the free and proper education granted to them under federal law.

The Texas Tribune reported on the state’s dysfunctional approach to special education:

After visiting 12 Texas public schools in May 2019, the U.S. Department of Education did not find sufficient evidence Texas had done what was necessary to reach all the students who were previously denied special education services. Texas also didn’t show proof it had provided school districts with clear guidance on their responsibilities under federal law, leaving school officials with “continued confusion” about how to interpret it.

​​The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protect the educational rights of children with disabilities by mandating that students with disabilities are entitled to a to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

It’s difficult to provide a free and appropriate education to all children without the existence of school choice. Education savings accounts are not only a critical step to ensuring that a child with special needs is enrolled in a school that serves their needs, but also that he or she has access to helpful resources such as specialized therapies, tutoring, and after-school programs that can help them flourish. It’s crucial that, as outlined in the Texas bill, ESA funds can be used to cover those costs, not just school tuition. 

Students with special needs are amongst those most harmed by the classic American model of assigning schools based on zip codes. Over twenty states already offer programs that provide scholarships or ESAs to serve these vulnerable students, and it’s important that Texas follows suit. Students with special needs not only deserve but have the right to an education that is suited to their learning styles and abilities. School choice must become the law of the land in Texas so that the rights of these students are not denied and they are given an equal chance at success.