June 19, 2014
Madison, WI – Families of students with disabilities from across the state are dismayed at the hostile reaction to the reasonable request that Wisconsin's private taxpayer-supported voucher schools should provide basic data on the disability status of their voucher students. The data request from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) comes fourteen months after the U.S. Department of Justice responded to a complaint from Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Wisconsin ACLU, on behalf of families of students with disabilities who have experienced discrimination in Milwaukee’s private voucher schools.
“It all comes down to fairness and accountability,” says Joanne Juhnke, Madison parent of a student on the autism spectrum and chair of the Stop Special Needs Vouchers steering committee. “Wisconsin is sending our tax dollars and some of our most vulnerable children into private voucher schools, and in return we’ve encountered a black hole of data resistance. The taxpayers and families of Wisconsin deserve to know the full extent to which private voucher schools may be discriminating against students with disabilities. This utter lack of transparency is yet another reason why we should not even be considering special needs vouchers in the state of Wisconsin.”
Lennise Vickers of Milwaukee isn’t surprised that some voucher schools would prefer not to publicize their disability data, given her family’s experience of “smoke and mirrors” recruiting practices when she briefly enrolled her daughter, who has Emotional Behavior Disorder, in a Milwaukee voucher school several years ago. “I felt like I was duped. The voucher school teacher had no desire or training to help my daughter. When voucher schools take students with disabilities and public money, they should have to follow all the rules that the public schools do, including reporting their numbers.”
The antagonism to disability data reporting takes on additional overtones in context of the so-called Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, recently introduced at the federal level. In an astonishing disregard for the federal rights of students with disabilities, the CHOICE Act would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to allow federal IDEA funds to flow into private voucher schools, while explicitly exempting those schools from abiding by the IDEA itself. The CHOICE Act also includes a truncated "non-discrimination" statement that would leave the door wide open for private voucher schools to openly discriminate on the basis of disability, actually codifying such discrimination-permission into the IDEA itself.
Wisconsin must ensure that our students with disabilities are not cheated of their civil rights when educated in private voucher schools. Proposed voucher expansion, including special needs vouchers, is more problematic than ever in the presence of such resistance to accountability as is currently being demonstrated.
Stop Special Needs Vouchers calls on Wisconsin’s private voucher schools to provide the requested data by the June 30 deadline, and urges our federal Congressional delegation to oppose the CHOICE Act (S.1909/H.R.4773).
For more information on Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a parent-led statewide grassroots group, see:
Facebook page -- https://www.facebook.com/StopSpecialNeedsVouchers