Note the reporting on St. Marcus (highlighted in report).
Date: October 24, 2016 Stop Special Needs Vouchers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Greetings from Stop Special Needs Vouchers! Please feel free to forward widely, and be sure to VOTE!
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has released the 2016 enrollment figures for the “Special Needs Scholarship Program,” which was passed in the most recent Wisconsin state budget without a public-hearing opportunity for families or community members to express our concerns. Families who accept the special needs vouchers must give up their rights and protections under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including the right to a free appropriate public education, the right to have disability considered when it comes to suspension and expulsion, and the right to recourse in case of a dispute. Public schools, meanwhile, must follow the full IDEA and educate all students regardless of disability.
The DPI press release is online at http://dpi.wi.gov/news/releases/2016/first-year-figures-special-needs-scholarship-program-announced
Even after changing the law to allow current private-school students at participating schools to receive the special needs vouchers, the program was only able to fill 206 of the 408 available seats at 26 participating schools.
To qualify for a special needs voucher, a student must have been denied open-enrollment between public school districts. Families with Stop Special Needs Vouchers warned that this would lead to a rush of open-enrollment applications merely to qualify for the voucher. It appears that this has come to pass. The after-the-fact “fix” to the law allowed current private school students to pursue open-enrollment denials in 2016 even if they had never sought open enrollment before, and participating schools instructed current families to do just that.
As reported in the Journal Sentinel 10/23 (Special Needs Vouchers Cost Districts $2.4 Million in Aid), “St. Marcus Lutheran School, where almost all children attend with a Milwaukee Parental Choice Program voucher worth about $7,300 annually, shifted almost 70 students onto special-needs vouchers.
St. Marcus leaders directed their parents of children with disabilities to apply for open enrollment at suburban districts that they knew had no seats available and that they knew their parents had no desire to attend. Once the districts denied the applications, the St. Marcus children were eligible for the higher-paying vouchers.”
Among the 26 participating special needs voucher schools, programming and staff qualification varies widely. Several of the schools have no certified special education staff, and only one specifies that it is wheelchair accessible. Participating schools are not required to provide their suspension/expulsion policies in their profiles.
The profiles of the special needs voucher schools are online at http://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sms/SNSP/SNSP%202016-17%20School%20List.pdf
Voucher-school families can find instructions for submitting disability-related complaints to DPI at https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sms/Complaint%20Process%2010-14-14.pdf. However, the instructions caution that DPI may not have the authority to address the complaint.
Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists are preparing for more special needs voucher legislation in 2017. Again from the Journal Sentinel: “Jim Bender, the president of the pro-voucher group School Choice Wisconsin, said the enrollment process and subsequent funding for special-needs vouchers will be part of the upcoming legislative session.”
It remains to be seen how many special needs voucher students will be returning to the public schools now that the fall semester count is complete. Stop Special Needs Vouchers will continue to advocate for providing the resources that our kids need to succeed in the public schools, where the doors are open to all, and students with disabilities have their full IDEA rights and recourse.
Your Vote Matters for Students with Disabilities!
Early voting is underway across Wisconsin, through 5pm or close-of-business on Friday November 4 — Election Day is Tuesday November 8! Every municipality sets its own early voting schedule; check with your local voting official to learn hours and locations in your area.
A reporter for the Washington Post recently asked presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to respond to questions on education:
Mr. Trump did not respond in detail, but provided a short statement beginning:”As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.” Further information can be found in the national Republican Party platform, which echoes the Choice Act proposal for allowing IDEA funding to flow to private schools that are not required to follow the IDEA: “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.”
Secretary Clinton did respond in detail, including the following statement: “Private schools can decline to accept students with disabilities, refuse to abide by the Individualized Education Plans of students they do accept, and segregate students with disabilities away from other kids. That’s why I believe we should keep public resources in our public schools.”
Where do your local candidates stand on public education for students with disabilities? Be sure to find out, and take their positions into account when you vote!
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