Special Needs Vouchers were passed in Wisconsin on July 12, 2015 in the 2015/17 state budget, after having been inserted in a late-night committee vote on May 20 without public input or opportunity to testify. No Wisconsin disability advocacy organization was in favor, joined in opposition by parents of students with disabilities across the state.
Brief summary of Wisconsin’s new special needs vouchers program
- The statewide program will start with the 2016/17 school year
- Voucher applicants must have attended public school in the previous year
- Voucher applicants must have been denied open enrollment in the previous year
- Voucher amount is $12,000 in 2016/17 (paid quarterly)
- The private school is supposed to “implement the child’s most recent individualized education program or services plan, as modified by agreement between the private school and the child’s parent, and related services agreed to by the private school and the child’s parent that are not included in the child’s individualized education program or services plan.” However, there are no stated obligations for a private school in case of noncompliance or dispute, nor for updating the student’s plan in subsequent years.
- Private schools that take special needs vouchers are NOT required to abide by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- Private schools that take special needs vouchers ARE required to abide by Wisconsin’s state law regulating seclusion and restraint (for all their students). However, the public will have no way to see the data, because the governing bodies of private schools are not subject to open-records law.
History of special needs vouchers advocacy in Wisconsin
Special needs vouchers have been repeatedly proposed — and defeated — in Wisconsin since 2011. Wisconsin’s disability advocacy organizations are opposed, as are families of students with disabilities from across the state.
And yet, these harmful proposals keep returning year after year, pushed by big money from outside Wisconsin. Special needs vouchers would allow tax dollars to be used to send students with disabilities from public schools to private schools. Students who use vouchers in private schools give up all their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and private voucher schools are neither required to educate all applicants nor to have special educators or therapists on staff. Meanwhile, our under-resourced public schools would lose even more critical funding, while educating Wisconsin’s students with the most challenging needs.
Wisconsin neither wants nor needs these vouchers! Learn more in the printable handouts below.
- From Stop Special Needs Vouchers (1 page) Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin: Wisconsin families committed to quality public education for all students
- From the Department of Public Instruction (3 pages) 2013/15 Budget Issue Paper: Special Needs Scholarships / Vouchers
- From the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (2 pages) Ensuring Quality Education Choices for Wisconsin Families of Children with Disabilities: Concerns About Special Needs “Scholarships”
- From the Madison Metropolitan School District (1 page) Special Education Vouchers: Endangering equal opportunities for students with disabilities
- From Step Up for Public Schools Wisconsin (2 pages) The Truth about Vouchers and Privately Run Charters (has a special needs vouchers section)
- From the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance (22 pages) Private School Voucher Expansion Proposal Media Kit (has a special needs vouchers section)