APS and Autistic Children

The Rio Grande Foundation has long been critical of our system of government-run schools. There are many reasons for this, but one important reason is that the institutional design of the schools themselves and the government’s management of them makes it very difficult to serve the diverse needs of our children. Nowhere is this dynamic so clear as with the Albuquerque Public Schools’ inability to serve autistic children.
Corey Davis, a policy analyst with the Foundation responded to a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal (subscription needed) which explained that parents of autistic children have filed a lawsuit against APS. Corey’s letter to the editor, which appeared in the paper on June 17, follows:
School Vouchers Give Parents Choice Instead of Frustration

THE RECENT report that 10 families of autistic students throughout the district are seeking a class-action lawsuit against the Albuquerque Public Schools for failing to meet their educational needs once again makes it clear that tax-funded, government-run schools are not necessarily the best option for all children.
The lawsuit claims that special-needs educators aren’t properly trained to educate these students. These children are frequently sent home early for behavior issues instead of receiving a full day of education because the teachers haven’t received the training necessary to understand autism and how it affects the students.
The problem is not the teachers, but the one-size-fits-all education system.
Our state spends about $7,000 on each student’s education every year. If parents of special-needs children were given a school voucher so they could choose where they wanted to send their children, many more students would have the chance to receive an education from a school that addresses their needs instead of trying to drive a square peg through a round hole.
The state of Ohio has a publicly funded scholarship program specifically for autistic students. In that state, parents are given money to help pay for tuition at the school of their choice.
Rather than failing children with unique educational needs, New Mexico should consider adopting a program like Ohio’s that puts parents in charge and relieves school districts from the burden of educating students with whom it is ill-equipped to cope. This is certainly a better option than a costly legal battle with justifiably frustrated parents.
Policy analyst, Rio Grande Foundation, Albuquerque