Educate All Students, Support Public Education

January 22, 2014

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin Coalition Fights Re-introduced Voucher Bill

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:16 am

Families of Students with Disabilities Oppose Re-Introduced Special Needs Vouchers Bill

Contact: Joanne Juhnke,; 608-320-6165

Terri Hart-Ellis,; 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:

For more information on Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a parent-led statewide grassroots group, see: Facebook page —

Blog —

Republican News Conference on Special Ed Vouchers

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:15 am

The opposition to the re-introduced special education voucher legislation is getting ready for another fight. Sen. Leah Vukmir embarrassingly admits they did not consult with the Department of Instruction in developing this bill.

To view the news conference and statements by opponents go to:

December 4, 2012

Special Education: Comparison of Wisconsin Public Schools to Voucher Schools

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:55 pm

Following is an array of information concerning special education services and what is required by public, charter and private voucher schools in Wisconsin. This information is provided by Wisconsin FACETS, Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.

For example, private voucher schools are not required to fulfill a student’s IEP. (Yet under  proposed legislation, AB 110, they will get full funding for special education services.)

Go to the following links. A page will appear with the link listed. Double click that link to get to the page:

School Choice – Charts 1

School Choice – FAQs 2

February 23, 2012

New Bill Will Degrade Special Education in Wisconsin

Filed under: Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 6:20 am

Following is a call by the parent group I Love My Public Schools.


New education bill AB110 takes funding for special-education services and educators from public schools, allows voucher schools to hire non-certified special-education teachers and services, and does not provide suitable funding to address the needs of moderately to severely disabled students. Skip to the bottom of this message for a call to action, or keep reading for more details on this fast-tracked legislation. AB 110 degrades the quality of special education for students in public and voucher schools.

Background: This past fall, AB110 was introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly. During the public hearing, all disability groups in Wisconsin opposed the bill. Legislators from both sides of the aisle recognized that this bill would not pass. Rep. Litjens, the sponsor of AB 110, has submitted a rewritten version. Disability groups in Wisconsin continue to oppose it for many reasons — described below. The biggest problem: the bill does not require private schools to have any special educators or related services expertise (e.g.,therapists) on staff. Sen. Vukmir has introduced the same bill in the Senate as SB 486. AB 110 will be voted on by the Assembly Education committee TOMORROW @ 10 AM. No testimony is taken during this hearing. Although no official announcement has been made, it looks like SB 486 will have a hearing during the afternoon of Feb. 28th.
The funding mechanism in AB110/SB486 is highly problematic:

  • Wisconsin does not fund special education students on a per pupil basis. AB110 does does, withdrawing per-pupil funding for collectively used services such as teachers, aides and therapists, from public schools, making it more likely that special-education students in public schools will no longer receive the services they need.
  • The bill does not provide a tuition cap: students with moderate to severe needs will not receive a voucher that covers the full cost of their education.

This will have three negative effects:

·         These students will be unlikely to find voucher schools that will serve them for the amount of their voucher.

·         The voucher program will likely appeal to families whose children have less complex disabilities, leaving increasingly underfunded public schools with a higher proportion of students with the most complex needs.

·         Low- and possibly moderate- income families who seek to attend a private school which has a tuition higher than the voucher amount will be unable to use the voucher, resulting in vouchers simply serving to subsidize families who can already afford to send their children to private school, rather than giving the monetary choice to families who cannot afford to do so.

While disability groups appreciate the reference to implementing the child’s most recent IEP, that reference becomes less relevant the longer the child remains in the private school (which the bill gives them a right to do through graduation or age 21 whichever comes first). In addition, there are no legal rights that go with that obligation. In other words, what happens if the child’s IEP is not implemented? The bill provides no remedy for that. Finally, as pointed in in point 4, below, without special educators on staff, how can parents have any confidence that private schools can actually implement their children’s IEPs?
This new bill does not require private schools to use DPI certified special educators or service providers.

TAKE ACTION! Please contact your member of the Assembly immediately to express your concerns about AB 110. If you do not know who your Assembly member is, you may call: 1-800-362-9472 or go to  Also contact every member of the Assembly Education Committee and tell them why this bill does not meet the diverse needs of special-education students in Wisconsin. You can find a full list of committee email addresses here:

We will alert you about the Senate Education Committee hearing that is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 28th in the afternoon, when the official announcement comes out. Please attend and testify if you can. If you cannot attend, please submit any concerns you may have to the chair of the committee, Sen. Luther Olsen at: or if your Senator is on the committee, please contact your Senator. The other Senators on the committee are Senators: Vukmir, Grothman, Darling, Vinehout, Larson and Cullen.
Thank you for your attention and intervention on behalf of ALL Wisconsin children with special-education needs, in ALL Wisconsin schools.


ILMPS parents

June 7, 2011

Major Complaint Filed: Discrimination by Voucher Schools Against Special Education Students

Filed under: Special Education — millerlf @ 11:31 am

A complaint has been filed with the US Dept of Justice, Civil Rights Division on behalf of children with disabilities because  the voucher system has  “discriminated against students with disabilities” and “segregated those students in one portion of the publicly funded educational system.”

This Complaint is brought against the State of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”), Messmer Catholic Preparatory School (“Messmer”), and Concordia University School (“Concordia”) by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Racial Justice Program (ACLU), the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation (ACLU-WIF), Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW), individual parents D. E. and D.J. on behalf of their children with disabilities.

Civil rights and disability rights organizations are currently investigating the lack of

services for students with disabilities in the Milwaukee Parent Choice Program (MPCP,

also known as the “Voucher” program).

We’d like to speak to parents about their experiences.

















To see the full complaint go to:

Voucher Special Education Complaint

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


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.”

April 17, 2011

The Special Education Disparity Between MPS and the Voucher Program: A More Accurate Comparison of Student Performance

Filed under: MPS,Special Education,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:57 pm

Given the significant disparity between the proportion of students with disabilities in MPS and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) schools, it is necessary to disaggregate the results of MPS as a whole by disability status in order to more accurately compare student performance in MPS and the MPCP. 19% of MPS students have an identified disability compared to only 1.6% of MPCP students.

For the first time, on March 29, 2011, school by school test scores for students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program were released to the public. In its press release, the Department of Public Instruction included a table that compared the test scores of MPS economically disadvantaged students to the scores of students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Given the current income requirements that govern participation in the MPCP program, it is correct to compare the MPS economically disadvantaged population to the MPCP population. In the same fashion, and again given the significant disparity in the number of special education students in the two programs, 19% compared to 1.6%, disaggregating the results by disability status provides the most accurate picture of student performance when comparing the two groups. Not surprisingly, and as shown in the table below, when results are disaggregated the gap between MPS and MPCP scores is further increased.

2010-11 Wisconsin Student Assessment System Results
All Grades Percent Proficient or Advanced


MPS Economically Disadvantaged, Students without Disabilities



MPCP, Students without Disabilities



MPS takes seriously the responsibility of educating all of the district’s students. And although the data above is presented in a manner that most accurately compares the scores between MPS and the MPCP, it is clear that much more needs to be done in order to ensure that all Milwaukee students reach their academic goals.

To see a comparison for each grade level go to:

MPCP test scores and MPS

April 29, 2010

Overhaul of Special Education in New York City Public Schools

Filed under: School Reform,Special Education — millerlf @ 8:10 am

New York City Public Schools: Enrollment in special education programs has climbed to some 177,000 students, or more than 17 percent of the system, up from roughly 13 percent in 2003. Experts in special education say it is difficult to know what has caused the increase. Theories include better identification of students with learning disabilities, particularly autism; parents being less reluctant to see their children identified as disabled; and the possibility that more children might actually have difficulties than in years past.

The city now spends $4.8 billion annually on special education, up from $3.8 billion five years ago. That includes $1.2 billion to send students to private schools.

City Pushes Shift for Special Education

By JENNIFER MEDINA Published: April 28, 2010

The Bloomberg administration, struggling to address the needs of a growing number of students with learning disabilities, is overhauling special education by asking every principal to take in more of the students and giving them greater flexibility in deciding how to teach them.

This fall, more than 250 schools will be asked to accept more students with disabilities rather than send them to schools that have specific programs for special education, as has been the case for decades. By September 2011, principals at each of the system’s 1,500 schools will be expected to enroll all but the most severely disabled students; those students will continue to be served by schools tailored exclusively to them.

The shift echoes one of the central philosophies of the administration, giving principals more responsibility and control over their schools. It is also an effort to bring New York more in line with the nationwide trend of allowing special education students to benefit from regular classroom settings.


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