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January 2015

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Testimony on AB1

2015 Assembly Bill 1: Public Hearing Testimony

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Donna Pahuski, and I am testifying on behalf of Stop Special Needs Vouchers, a statewide volunteer group led by families of students with special education needs.

I am also the proud mother of my 23 year old daughter, Mary, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3. Thanks to the investment that our neighborhood school made in her as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), she has now graduated from college and is enrolled at a medical school working on her Masters in Biotechnology. When asked about the major factors that contributed to her academic and social-emotional success, Mary summed up her experience in the Cambridge and Marshall school districts: “They were trained, ready and required by law to address my needs.”

Trained, ready, and required by law to address the needs of students with disabilities. Wisconsin should expect nothing less in terms of accountability from schools that educate our students using our tax dollars.

AB1 falls significantly short of those expectations in several areas.

First, it is still not widely understood that private voucher schools in Wisconsin are not required to abide by the IDEA. This fundamental lack of voucher-school accountability for students with disabilities is one of our major objections to special needs voucher proposals. AB1 does not address the issue and therefore will not change that basis for our opposition to special needs vouchers.

Second, in order to have useful comparisons of enrollment and achievement data for students with disabilities, the disability data must be reported using common definitions. Public and charter schools report their disability-related data according to educationally-based categories in Wisconsin state law, but AB1 makes no such requirement for private voucher schools. Unless the definitions are apples-to-apples, the data will be meaningless to the families who need the information.

Third, we know that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by suspension and expulsion. However, private voucher schools are not currently required to report suspension and expulsion data, and AB1 fails to offer any correction to that.

Finally, AB1 includes provisions that would require converting public schools into independent charter schools under certain conditions. However, we know that Milwaukee’s charter schools and public schools are not currently serving comparable percentages of students with disabilities. Over 20 percent of MPS students are receiving special education services, while that number is under 10 percent in Milwaukee’s charter schools. When it comes to students with cognitive disabilities, the numbers are even more concerning: MPS educates a five-times-greater proportion of students with cognitive disabilities than Milwaukee’s independent charters. We have serious concerns about the prospect of turning over schools serving a high percentage of students with disabilities to a school sector that is currently failing to educate students with disabilities in fair proportions.

When it comes to students with disabilities, AB1 is a seriously flawed bill.

Thank you for your consideration of these issues.

Donna Pahuski
for Stop Special Needs Vouchers

Parent Quotes

“It is not ‘choice’ when one is forced to give up his or her legal protections.” — Kevin, father from Cudahy

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