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June 2014

Taxpayers Deserve to See the Voucher School Data, Say Families of Students with Disabilities

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 our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StopSpecialNeedsVouchers

 This press release is also posted at The Wheeler Report for June 19, 2014.

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin Opposes Federal Special Needs Voucher Funding

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin, a statewide grassroots group of families, is firmly opposed to S.1909/H.R.4773, the so-called Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, as introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN).

Because of the activism of families before us, our children attend school together with their neighborhood peers. Across the country, students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate public education, with legally enforceable protections, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The rights and protections of the IDEA do not apply, however, in private voucher schools. Private schools are not required to accept any given student with a disability, and families have no recourse if the private school decides that a student is no longer welcome. Private voucher schools need not have therapists or special educators on staff, nor are such schools required to provide specific services or supports such as therapies or assistive technologies. Meanwhile, vouchers drain funds from the neighborhood schools where IDEA does apply, that are required to educate all students regardless of disabilities. In short, special needs vouchers are risky for those who accept them and forfeit their IDEA rights, and harmful for students with more challenging disabilities who are left concentrated in the public schools with less systemwide funding.

While the families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers have successfully advocated against special needs voucher proposals in Wisconsin, the CHOICE Act would provide start-up grants for such detrimental programs to be developed in additional states. Furthermore, the Act would amend the IDEA itself to allow federal IDEA funding to be spent in existing voucher or tax credit programs for students with disabilities, while de-coupling that funding from all the requirements of the IDEA.

Stop Special Needs Vouchers objects strongly to the CHOICE Act’s proposal to spend federal dollars on propagating harmful voucher programs, especially in light of the chronic underfunding of the IDEA. The additional provision of the CHOICE Act to exempt a portion of those scarce IDEA funds from the IDEA itself, and spend those dollars in unaccountable private schools, is completely unacceptable and displays an intense level of disregard for the struggles of the families who brought the IDEA into being in the first place, and for the students that the IDEA now serves and protects.

We urge our Senators and Representatives to join with us in opposing S.1909/H.R.4773. Public funding for students with disabilities belongs in public schools, where the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act remains in force.

via The Wheeler Report: Stop Special Needs Vouchers Opposes Federal Special Needs Voucher Funding

Parent Quotes

“When voucher schools take students with disabilities and public money, they need to follow every rule and guideline to make sure they are educated – and that’s not happening.” — Lennise from Milwaukee, mother to Aquila

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