The following is Gary Myrah’s testimony from our April 11 Listening Session in Milwaukee.
Mr. Myrah is a parent and the executive director for the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services.
Good evening, I am Gary Myrah, a parent and the executive director for the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS). I have been a director of special services since 1978.
The issue of private school special education vouchers/scholarships is not a partisan issue. It is an issue that has been created at a national level and brought into states via a conservative group of people. Laws related to providing services to children with disabilities have been supported by both parties.
Before 1975, too many children were denied access to education and opportunities to learn. Providing appropriate education to youngsters from diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds was especially challenging. Further, most families were not afforded the opportunity to be involved in planning or placement decisions regarding their children, and resources were not available to enable children with significant disabilities to live at home and receive an education at neighborhood schools in their community.
When it was passed in 1975, P.L. 94-142 (now IDEA) guaranteed a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability. This law had a dramatic, positive impact on millions of children with disabilities in every state and each local community across the country.
For the past 38 years children with disabilities and their parents have had guaranteed rights. Four Purposes of P.L. 94-142:
- “to assure that all children with disabilities have available to them … a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs
- to assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents … are protected
- to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities
- to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities”
(Source: Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 1975) The current proposed legislation jeopardizes these four purposes. Private school vouchers will not:
- assure a FREE APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION
- assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents … are protected
- assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities
- assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities
Chapter 89 (Now Chapter 115) of Wisconsin laws and P.L. 94-142 (now IDEA) are the results of the power of parents banding together to seek a better life for their child(ren). The current proposed option for private school special education vouchers/scholarships DID NOT START WITH PARENTS.
This is an effort that is currently sweeping the nation and is designed by corporate leaders that believe we must privatize public education. Currently similar legislation has been proposed in multiple states, all appear to follow the same template. This legislation will:
- reduce the amount of money received by public schools to serve children with disabilities
- vaporize a parents rights as they cross the threshold of a private school
- ignore the requirement for highly qualified teachers to serve children with disabilities
- lead to segregated classrooms where children will model each other behaviors
How do we prevent this from happening – fire up PARENT POWER.
The collective force of parents focused on a purpose is remarkable. This is how the original laws were written; it will be critical in maintaining these laws. Every parent needs to pick up a pen or pencil and write THEIR story and why it is important not to jeopardize the rights of children with disabilities. It is equally effective to send an electronic version or even call and leave a message.
The letters that are written should not be form letters or from a template. The letters need to tell a personalized story of how public education has helped a child succeed.
Another method that should be considered is to involve students. They are able to utilize social media to create an avalanche of communication to any and all legislators. There are countless number of young people that have a passion to ensure the humane treatment of their friends, they need to have a voice as well.