We are a group of families from across Wisconsin. We believe that equal opportunity for a solid and inclusive public education should be available to every student, including students with disabilities. We applaud the promise and the progress that our country has made through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and are committed to pressing forward where we can continue to mak e improvements, informed by feedback from families every step of the way.
In Wisconsin, however, the basic promise and protections of IDEA for students with disabilities are facing a serious threat from the special needs vouchers in Governor Walker’s budget proposal. The special needs voucher proposal offers risk to the students who would use the vouchers to attend private schools, and harm to the students who remain in public schools.
- Families who use the special needs vouchers would give up their child’s rights and protections guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including the right to a legally-enforceable Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- Special needs vouchers take tax dollars out of public school districts, weakening the vitality of neighborhood schools and hurting the students with disabilities who remain in those schools. Small districts are particularly vulnerable to further loss of funding.
- Voucher schools would have no obligation to accept any given student with disabilities. Special needs vouchers will go to students with mild disabilities that are more easily accommodated, leaving children with moderate and severe disabilities in neighborhood schools which have been drained of special education funding.
- Voucher schools are not required to employ special education teachers or therapists, and have no obligation to meet a student’s specific needs.
- Voucher programs take tax dollars out of individual public schools, weakening the vitality of neighborhood schools and hurting the students with disabilities who remain in those schools.
For these reasons and more, the special needs voucher program is an empty promise for students with disabilities in our state. This major policy change, so wrong for Wisconsin, does not belong in the state budget. We need a statewide debate, including parents and special education experts, and a public hearing in the legislature before an education committee.
In addition, we see an opportunity to offer public school choice to all students in Wisconsin. We want to improve the public school open enrollment system so that students with disabilities have equal choice between public schools as do students without disabilities. Right now, students with disabilities are denied choice between public schools at a higher rate (approaching 40% denials of open-enrollment applications) than students without disabilities (28% denials). The time to address that inequity is now!
Take special needs vouchers out of the budget! Fix open enrollment for students with disabilities!