Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

April 29, 2011

Proposed Legislation: Vouchers for Special Education Students?

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 11:04 am

Bill would give special ed students aid to switch schools

LINDSAY FIORI Racine JournalTimes.com |

There will be a hearing on the Wisconsin special education scholarship bill Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the State Capitol in Madison.

Special education students may someday be able to switch schools through a state voucher program.

The program would call students’ ability to switch “scholarships,” not vouchers, but it would operate much like Milwaukee’s voucher program for low-income students. Special education students, regardless of income, would be able to switch schools by applying per-pupil state aid from their home district to another participating public school district or private school of their choice.

The program would become a reality in Wisconsin if a state Assembly bill introduced this week becomes law.

“The group that often has difficulty finding the right school for their child is parents with special needs kids,” said the bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Michelle Litjens, R-Vinland. Litjens said the bill is intended to help parents no longer able to successfully work with their home school district and in need of a way to put their child in an alternate school.

But Disability Rights Wisconsin opposes the bill because they worry special education students entering private schools could have their rights violated since private schools do not have to follow the same special education laws as public schools, said Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, managing attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, a non-profit public interest law firm that advocates on behalf of people with disabilities.

“If that (private) school wants to discipline you, kick you out, take your money and not offer special ed, that’s just fine under this bill,” Spitzer-Resnick said.

The bill could also move special education away from a more recent trend of including special education kids in regular education classrooms as often as possible.

“There’s only a handful of (private) schools that are designed for kids with disabilities,” he said, explaining those might be the only ones willing to participate in the program. “So we’ll be going backwards and putting kids with disabilities a in highly segregated school just for them.”

For those reasons, the local Arc of Racine nonprofit disabilty advocacy group will likely follow Disabilty Rights Wisconsin in opposing the bill, said Arc Executive Director Sandy Engel.

Litjens said Thursday she was not aware of such reasons for opposition and officials in Florida, one of a handful of states with a similar program, said they’ve not had problems or seen segragation of students.

“The parents love it,” said Michael Kooi, executive director of Florida’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice. “It hasn’t led to a mass exodus out of our public schools. Only 6 percent (of students) are in the program but it’s that group of students whose parents felt there was a better opportunity for them somewhere else.”

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