Families of Students with Disabilities Oppose Re-Introduced Special Needs Vouchers Bill
Contact: Joanne Juhnke, firstname.lastname@example.org; 608-320-6165
Terri Hart-Ellis, email@example.com; 414-217-8999
Madison, WI – Families of students with disabilities and their supporters across Wisconsin are responding with opposition and dismay to the January 21st return of the harmful special needs voucher proposal to the Wisconsin legislature. The unwelcome return of the special needs vouchers proposal, which failed to pass in previous attempts, would funnel critical taxpayer funding out of public schools and into private voucher schools which lack vital accountability. In addition, these private schools would not be required to abide by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This re-introduction of a failed proposal comes at a time when the underside of Wisconsin’s voucher program has been on stark display given the sudden folding of Milwaukee’s failed LifeSkills Academy, a private voucher school whose owners had also recently opened a special needs voucher school in Florida.
For Nancy Gapinski, parent from Glendale, the failure of LifeSkills Academy looms large in her concerns about the new special needs voucher proposal. “LifeSkills Academy took our tax money, failed to educate their students, and left families in the lurch in the middle of the night, all while re-inventing themselves as a special needs voucher school in Florida. How can we be considering new vouchers in Wisconsin when this kind of disaster is happening with our current vouchers?”
The bill’s most prominent revision is reportedly a new requirement that voucher recipients must first be denied an open enrollment request to attend public school in a district other than the one in which they live. The open enrollment denial requirement makes no sense to Joanne Juhnke, Madison parent and chair of the Stop Special Needs Vouchers steering committee. “If you want to improve open enrollment for students with disabilities, and we do,” says Juhnke, “this is entirely the wrong approach. It leaves in place the inequities in the current open enrollment law, while cynically encouraging families to game the system in pursuit of voucher funding. Open-enrollment denials are easy to get if one deliberately attempts to open-enroll into a district that’s known to be already full.”
The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers oppose any voucher proposal that fails to require private schools to provide special education services or be held accountable for meeting students’ educational needs. In addition, no proposal so far has addressed concerns about discriminatory practices used against students with disabilities which were highlighted last year by a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, outlining measures needed to assess and eliminate existing discrimination.
“Make no mistake,” warns parent Katie Schierl from Neenah, “special needs vouchers would represent a major statewide voucher expansion. This would be a drain on every public school district in the state, and our students with the greatest challenges are the ones who stand to lose the most.”
The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers statewide will continue to work to inform the legislature and the public of the potential damage that special needs vouchers represent for our students. With all the shortcomings of Wisconsin’s current voucher programs, our state must not commit another dime to the expansion or creation of discriminatory voucher programs.
Stop Special Needs Vouchers is comprised of Wisconsin families committed to quality inclusive public education and to stopping harmful special needs vouchers.
For more background on concerns about special needs vouchers in Wisconsin, see: http://tinyurl.com/coqrrsn
For more information on Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a parent-led statewide grassroots group, see: Facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/StopSpecialNeedsVouchers