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WILL’s “Alternative Facts” on Special Needs Voucher Expansion

You know you’ve struck a nerve when a lavishly-funded law firm starts publicly attacking volunteer grassroots advocacy groups.

In a post on September 11, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) produced a startling collection of “alternative facts” on the subject of special needs vouchers.  The post seizes upon four true statements made by Rep. Katrina Shankland during the Joint Finance Committee brief discussion before the party-line passage of an unvetted expansion of special needs vouchers, without opportunity for public testimony.  WILL then spins its readers down a rabbit hole where up is down, fact is myth, and parents who care about public education for students with disabilities are “special interest groups.”

The post may have been occasioned by Rep. Shankland’s pointing out the striking similarity between the Joint Finance special needs voucher expansion motion and a wish-list that WILL had published only days before.  Here was Rep. Shankland’s true statement on that score:

  • “(WILL) is getting their way when a lot of different parents groups, disability rights groups, and education professionals are asking for a fair shot for all of our kids.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

WILL’s response:

This is most accurate if you replace “parents groups” with “special interest groups opposed to school choice.” …

Shankland is basing this on statements made about the SNSP made by anti-school choice groups, like Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin, who put out a press release following the passage of the bill that included some complaints from parents, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the teachers’ unions, and other groups. 

Let’s be clear: the parents of Stop Special Needs Vouchers and other all-volunteer grassroots organizations standing up for public education across the state of Wisconsin are not “special interest groups.” Our passionate, heartfelt dismay at the expansion of a program that undercuts our children’s neighborhood schools and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is much more than “some complaints.” And the idea that the Stop Special Needs Vouchers press release somehow speaks for teachers’ unions or any other group is simply laughable.

WILL’s post failed to include the list of organizations that co-signed an open letter to the Joint Finance Committee requesting that the special needs voucher program NOT be expanded.  Those groups, whose names Rep. Shankland read aloud at the JFC meeting, are listed below; some are all-volunteer, all are non-partisan, and not one single organization on the list deserves to be dismissed as a “special interest group.”

  • Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin
  • Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin
  • Autism Society of Wisconsin
  • Citizen Advocates for Public Education, Lake Mills
  • Community Advocates for Public Education, Middleton-Cross Plains
  • Disability Rights Wisconsin
  • Mental Health America of Wisconsin
  • NAMI Wisconsin
  • Parents for Public Schools of Milwaukee
  • Saint Croix Valley Friends of Public Education
  • School Funding Reform for Wisconsin, Stevens Point
  • Stop Special Needs Vouchers
  • Support Sun Prairie Schools
  • Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations
  • The Arc of Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools
  • Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities
  • Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services
  • Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired
  • Wisconsin Family Ties

 WILL also “alternative-facted” three other true statements.

  • “No data or evidence based research to show that students receive better outcomes in special needs voucher program.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

What are the graduation rates for special needs voucher students compared to their public school peers? How do their academic achievements in reading and math compare? What about employment rates after leaving school?  Nobody knows.  The research does not exist.  The WILL blogpost manages to point to one lone 2003 report emanating from a free-market think tank, based solely on parental-satisfaction interviews with special needs voucher recipients in Florida.  This does not qualify as a research evidence base for comparative outcomes, by any stretch of the imagination.

  • “These kids lose their federal protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

If anyone would like to fact-check this statement, a good place to start would be DPI’s “Comparison of Rights of Students with Disabilities and their Families under State and Federal Special Education Law and under the Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Program” document.  IDEA is not, and has never been, a “menu of services,” as WILL insinuates – and anyone with even a minimal understanding of special education law knows better than this.

  • “In that second year… (SNSP participating schools) are reimbursed for 90 percent of the cost, whether it’s 250, 500,000 or even a million dollars…”  TRUE (even if WILL says otherwise)

Rep. Shankland’s point about the lack of any upper bound on the revised funding structure is factually based on the motion text. WILL scoffs at the idea that any special needs voucher school would take advantage of the lack of cost-control in the proposal – but why in the world would we allow it, if we don’t want it to happen?

The parents of Stop Special Needs Vouchers stand by our call to Governor Walker to veto these unvetted, unnecessary, and underhanded expansions to the special needs voucher program.

– Contact: Kelli Simpkins, stopspecialneedsvouchers@gmail.com

 

Stop Special Needs Vouchers UPDATE and ACTION ALERT

Special Needs Voucher Expansion Voted Into 2017/19 State Budget
(And It’s Worse Than We Had Guessed)

As Stop Special Needs Vouchers warned in our August 30 call-to-action, the Joint Finance Committee did indeed spring a last-minute special needs voucher expansion into the state budget. The motion was made public at 2pm on Wednesday September 6 and voted into the 2017/19 budget on a party line vote 75 minutes later, with no opportunity for public input.

The expansions to the special needs voucher program that will now go to the full legislature are even more extreme than the proposals that had been floated by Assembly and Senate majority leadership over the summer, which had already been opposed by 20 education and disability advocacy organizations, including Stop Special Needs Vouchers (see 7/31 joint Memo to Joint Finance members opposing special needs scholarship expansion proposals).

The most startlingly-new item in the motion was a re-structuring of the special needs vouchers funding. If the new scheme is passed into law, starting in the 2018/19 school year, private schools will receive the standard voucher amount ($12,000 currently) but can calculate their actual costs for that year. If they spend less than the $12,000, they will get the full voucher amount the following year and continue to pocket the difference. If they spend more than $12,000, however, they can get up to $18,000 paid fully by the student’s home district, and anything over $18,000 will be paid at 90% from general-purpose revenue. Heads, the voucher lobby wins; tails, students with disabilities in the public schools lose! We even don’t know how much students in public schools will lose, because the new scheme did not have a fiscal estimate; the impact will not be felt until the first year of the next budget.

Two additional expansion items removed voucher enrollment conditions that were based on voucher-proponents’ own arguments about the supposed need for the program. From the beginning, we were told that students were trapped in their resident public schools by open enrollment denials, and these were the students for whom the program was being created. Now it has become clear that those reasons were never serious, because the expansion:

Eliminates the prior year open enrollment requirement
Eliminates the requirement that a student must be enrolled at a public school the year before

These two measures are expected to bring an additional 250 new students into the special needs voucher program, many of whom would already be in private schools, at a cost of $3.1 million dollars to the resident public school districts. For comparison’s sake, the entire total of additional funding that the Joint Finance Committee added for high-cost special education across the state was only $1.6 million.

Finally, the Joint Finance Committee approved a surprise restructuring of the open enrollment program for students with disabilities, paralleling the new special needs voucher funding structure and undercutting the balanced solution that was the result of months of careful stakeholder deliberations.

Left unaddressed was the ongoing freeze of special education categorical aid, now an entire shameful decade with no new funding, even as needs and costs have continued to rise.

For more information, please see Stop Special Needs Vouchers’ 9/7 press release:
Special Needs Voucher Expansion Proposal Once Again Tells Families of Students with Disabilities — Your Voices Don’t Matter

The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers have repeatedly stressed their concerns about the lack of rights and protections for students with disabilities in private voucher schools, and the increasing drain on funding for the public schools that must accept and educate students of all abilities.

Kelli Simpkins, whose 14-year-old son Mickey has an IEP in the Madison school district, found herself with similar objections to the voucher expansion that she had to the 2015 early-morning vote that created the program. “We keep hearing that special needs vouchers are all about trusting the parents. If that’s the case, why are we not trusted to testify when the legislature considers big policy changes for students with disabilities?” she asked. “The changes to the special needs vouchers program are expected to funnel over three million dollars from the public schools into unaccountable private schools that don’t even have to accept our kids! Surely we ought to have a chance to weigh in on this?”

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) has a further summary of the Joint Finance Committee special needs voucher expansion vote:  JFC Approves Special Needs Voucher Expansion

======

Action Step: Contact Governor Walker and Your Own Legislators

Now that the Joint Finance Committee has finished its work, the budget will go to the legislature for a vote, and then to Governor Walker for line-item vetoes and signature.

This is the final opportunity to let your legislators and Governor Walker know that you OPPOSE the special needs voucher expansion and open enrollment funding changes for students with disabilities.

– Please let your Assembly Representative and State Senator know that you want these last-minute additions REMOVED from the state budget (you can look up your legislators’ email and phone number by typing your address into the search box at https://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/)

– Please contact Governor Walker and ask him to VETO the special needs voucher expansion measures and open enrollment funding changes for students with disabilities, which he did not propose himself. (Email: governor@wisconsin.gov – Phone: (608) 266-1212)

Questions? Please let us know at stopspecialneedsvouchers@gmail.com.

 

Press Release: Special Needs Voucher Expansion Proposal Once Again Tells Families of Students with Disabilities – Your Voices Don’t Matter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2017

Madison, WI – It’s déjà vu all over again for families of students with disabilities who have been doing their best for years to raise their voices in opposition to special needs vouchers. In May 2015, a post-midnight vote introduced a special needs voucher program into the state budget with no opportunity for public feedback. Now, on September 6 of 2017, the Joint Finance Committee introduced and passed a major expansion to the program, once again without opportunity for families to see the proposal and offer their testimony.

The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers have repeatedly stressed their concerns about the lack of rights and protections for students with disabilities in private voucher schools, and the increasing drain on funding for the public schools that must accept and educate students of all abilities.

Kelli Simpkins, whose 14-year-old son Mickey has an IEP in the Madison school district, found herself with similar objections to the voucher expansion that she had to the 2015 early-morning vote that created the program. “We keep hearing that special needs vouchers are all about trusting the parents. If that’s the case, why are we not trusted to testify when the legislature considers big policy changes for students with disabilities?” she asked. “The changes to the special needs vouchers program are expected to funnel over three million dollars from the public schools into unaccountable private schools that don’t even have to accept our kids! Surely we ought to have a chance to weigh in on this?”

Nancy Gapinski, whose 10-year old son Ben has an IEP in the Glendale-River Hills school district, wondered at the changing rationale for special needs vouchers that the new policy changes revealed. “My concerns with the special needs vouchers haven’t changed,” she said. “I still believe that increased funding for special education should go to the public schools, where the vast majority of children with disabilities are educated and where the rights and protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act apply. We were told two years ago that the special needs vouchers were needed due to students with disabilities being denied open enrollment between public school districts, and now we’re being told that open enrollment should play no part in special needs voucher enrollment. Is anyone even listening to what’s being said?”

Families’ objections to special needs voucher expansion include not only the lack of rights and protection in voucher schools and the loss of resources for students in public schools, but also the complete lack of evidence that voucher schools offer any better outcomes for students with disabilities.

What was true in 2015 is still true today: special needs voucher policy changes do not belong in the state budget.

 

URGENT Action Alert: Call/Email to Stop Special Needs Voucher Expansion in the 2017/19 State Budget!

Calls and emails needed: the Joint Finance Committee will be voting on a Special Needs Scholarship Program agenda item on TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 5.
(See the agenda here: http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/raw/cid/1399365)

Just like when the Joint Finance Committee voted the special needs voucher program into the 2015/17 budget, over the objections of parents and disability organizations across the state, the motion won’t be made public until the actual committee meeting.

However, the voucher lobby put out a wish list today, in a brief from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty at http://www.will-law.org/special-needs-scholarship-reform/.
They want to expand special needs vouchers by:
1) eliminating the requirement that a child must apply for open enrollment
2) eliminating the requirement that a child attend a public school the year prior, and
3) increasing funding.

We need to let the Joint Finance Committee know THIS WEEK that any expansion of funding or enrollment criteria for the special needs voucher program is unacceptable.

Here’s what they need to hear:
– We need our Wisconsin tax dollars to fund public education, where students with disabilities have the full rights and protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Categorical aid for special education in our public schools must be the first priority, and yet the committee has chosen to continue a full decade of flat-funding, even as costs continue to rise.  Public education MUST come first.
– Special needs vouchers are risky for students who take them and give up their IDEA rights, and harmful to students with disabilities in public schools, as increasingly more funding gets diverted into unaccountable private schools.
– Where is the evidence that special needs vouchers result in better outcomes for students with disabilities than special education in public schools? Why are we considering making investments in something unproven?
– Where is the opportunity for public testimony and deliberation on this significant policy change?
– Please vote AGAINST any expansion of special needs vouchers in the state budget.

CALLS:
Senator Darling (Co-Chair) – 608-266-5830
Representative Nygren (Co-Chair) – 608-266-2343
Senator Olsen (Vice-Chair) – 608-266-0751 
Representative Kooyenga (Vice-Chair) – 608-266-9180
 

Action Alert: Wisconsin State Budget!

Time to Speak Up on the Wisconsin State Budget!

The Joint Finance Committee will be holding six public hearings, starting next week, on the Wisconsin state budget for the next two years.

Here are some highlights (and low-lights) from Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal:

– A $200 per-pupil increase for students in public schools in each of the next two years
ASK: Keep this increase! Students with disabilities are students first and foremost, so this would help!

– $6 million across the biennium for school mental health, including new funding for school social workers, grants for districts to partner with community mental health providers, and training in important programs including Trauma Sensitive Schools and Youth Mental Health First Aid
ASK: Keep this crucial investment for students with mental health needs!

– A $217 per-pupil increase for private special needs voucher schools, as well as an expansion of the special needs voucher program (more money for a program in which students must give up rights and protections at the door)
ASK: Prioritize the public schools that serve all our students in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, rather than vouchers that require students to give up their IDEA rights and protections!

– The budget does NOT include an increase in special education categorical aids — this would make TEN YEARS of flat funding in the face of growing needs and inflation!
ASK: INCREASE special education funding to the level proposed by the Department of Public Instruction (28% reimbursement rate for 2017/18, 30% for 2018/19).

There are six Joint Finance Committee public hearings on the state budget, opportunities to testify in person (two-minute time limit, which is about 250 words). The Wisconsin Public Education Network — Stop Special Needs Vouchers is a member organization — has wonderful resources on making your voice heard, whether or not you are able to go to a hearing in person, at http://www.wisconsinnetwork.org/blog/budget

If you are able to attend a public hearing, be sure to look for the #GoPublic signs to connect with other public education supporters.

  • Monday, April 3, 10am – 5pm – UW-Platteville, Ullsvick Hall,30 South Hickory Street, Platteville, WI 53818
  • Wednesday, April 5, 10 am – 6pm – State Fair Park, Exposition Center, 8200 West Greenfield Avenue, West Allis, WI 53214 (Milwaukee)
  • Friday, April 7, 10am – 5pm – Berlin High School, Auditorium, 222 Memorial Drive, Berlin, WI 54923
  • Tuesday, April 18, 10am – 6pm – Spooner High School, Auditorium, 801 County Highway A, Spooner, WI 54801
  • Wednesday, April 19, 10am – 5pm – Ellsworth High School, Gymnasium, 323 West Hillcrest Street, Ellsworth, WI 54011
  • Friday, April 21, 10am – 5pm – Marinette High School, Auditorium, 2135 Pierce Avenue, Marinette, WI 54143

One of the many ways to make your voice heard if you can’t be there in person (many of us do have weekday commitments, after all!) is to email written testimony to: BudgetComments@legis.wisconsin.gov

Send a copy to your own state legislators as well — you can look them up with the “Find My Legislators” search at http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

Questions? Let us know at StopSpecialNeedsVouchers@gmail.com

Thank you for standing up for students with disabilities!

 

Action Alert: State Superintendent Election, Tuesday April 4!

Vote, Vote, Vote! Wisconsin State Superintendent Election, Tuesday April 4!

Wisconsin will elect a state superintendent of public instruction on Tuesday April 4, a crucial opportunity to speak up for students with disabilities in Wisconsin!

On the ballot are current superintendent Tony Evers, and challenger Lowell Holtz.

Here’s how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sums up the race:

“A staunch advocate of public schools, Tony Evers will defend his seat in the April 4 election against school choice proponent Lowell Holtz.”

DPI race between Tony Evers, Lowell Holtz centers on future of education in Wisconsin (Journal Sentinel, 3/25/2017)
http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2017/03/25/dpi-race-between-tony-evers-lowell-holtz-centers-future-education-wisconsin/99491636/

Tony Evers opposes special needs vouchers.
Lowell Holtz promotes “a voucher in every backpack.”

Your vote is your voice — VOTE on Tuesday April 4!

THANK YOU!

 

Press Release: Parents Aghast at DeVos Confirmation Hearing Statements

For Immediate Release
19 January 2017

Madison, WI – “Goodbye, special education.” That was the despairing online response of one Wisconsin parent of children with disabilities, upon watching the Senate confirmation hearing Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers from across Wisconsin watched in disbelief as DeVos told Sen. Tim Kaine that meeting the requirements of the federal law known as the  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was “a matter that is best left to the states.” The educational rights and protections that families worked so hard in previous decades to win were suddenly declared as optional by the nominee for the position responsible for administering them.

“I couldn’t sleep last night; haunting me were visions of what the DeVos appointment would mean for my kids, my schools and my community,” says Terri Hart-Ellis, whose 13 year old daughter Addie has an IEP in the Whitefish Bay school district.  “IDEA guides and protects the supports needed for my daughter to be successful in school, for her teachers to be able to be effective.  Without these protections for her and guidance for her teachers, her future is in doubt and the school community on the whole loses out.”

Disbelief among the families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers soon became determination, as parents mobilized to call the members of the Senate HELP Committee and encourage them to block the DeVos confirmation.

Nancy Gapinski posted a photo of her 9-year-old son Ben who has an IEP in the Glendale-River Hills School District, playing bass at his first orchestra concert this week, with a plea to family and friends. “As a parent of a child with autism,” she wrote, “I am begging all of you to call your senators to say that you oppose Ms. DeVos’ appointment. If you care about my son at all, call today.” Without the services provided under the IDEA, she points out, her son’s success as a member of the school orchestra would have been no better than an unattainable dream. She adds, “I worry about a future in which the Department of Education’s leader does not know about federal protections under the IDEA, or seem to care that a consequence of federal dollars going to private schools without any rules or regulations is that children with disabilities are discriminated against and under-served.”

For parents of students with disabilities across the state, the rights and protections of the IDEA are worth fighting for.  The families of Stop Special Needs Vouchers will not stand quietly by for the confirmation of a Secretary of Education who either does not understand or does not value the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and everything it means for our children.

###

 

Sen. Leah Vukmir: “Good Riddance” to Rights and Protections for Students with Disabilities

Note: Stop Special Needs Vouchers submitted this piece to the Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee) in response to a remarkably condescending opinion piece by State Senator Leah Vukmir, called “School Choice is Working for Wisconsin Students.” The Journal Sentinel declined to acknowledge or publish.

————-

When it comes to rights and protections for students with disabilities, State Senator Leah Vukmir has two words: “Good riddance.”

Good riddance, she declares in a 10/31 opinion piece, to education as we know it in Wisconsin.

As parents of students with disabilities, education as we know it in Wisconsin is made possible for our children by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Thanks to the IDEA, our kids have the right to a free appropriate public education, with a legally-enforceable Individualized Education Plan, in our neighborhood schools where the doors must be open to all students regardless of disability. Our nation has declared via the IDEA that students with disabilities deserve rights and protections within our system of taxpayer-funded education.

Wisconsin’s voucher programs as championed by Sen. Vukmir, however, have created an alternate reality in which students with disabilities are deemed to be deserving of no such thing.

We and other Wisconsin parents have pointed out for years that students with disabilities give up their IDEA rights and protections the moment they accept a voucher. Voucher students enter a system in which schools are not legally obligated to meet their needs, nor are voucher schools required to have special educators on staff. Unlike public schools, voucher schools need not provide transition services before students graduate. They can expel or “counsel out” students they find too challenging to educate, and the public schools must take the rejected students back while the funding lags behind.

All these things have been true of Wisconsin’s voucher system for decades, but are even more stark in the new special needs voucher program. The special needs voucher scheme failed repeatedly in the legislature in the face of opposition from parents like us, together with unanimous opposition from disability organizations statewide. Since the program couldn’t pass on its own merits, it was stealthily inserted into the 2015-17 state budget on a midnight vote without a public hearing. The much-hyped demand, however, failed to materialize: out of over 400 available special needs voucher seats, only 202 students signed up, many of whom were already attending private schools.

It’s worth taking a look at the “special education profiles” of the special needs voucher schools. Only one of the 26 declares that they’re wheelchair accessible, while an entire chain of schools offers special education support only to students with Specific Learning Disability and speech and language impairments.

Meanwhile, in our public schools where the IDEA must be followed and the doors are open to even those with the most challenging of needs, the percentage-share of state support for special education has been steadily eroding, such that local districts are scrambling to cover the difference. If there’s no increase in the upcoming state budget, special education categorical aid will have been frozen for a full decade. This lopsided pseudo-competition, with a big thumb on the voucher side of the scale, is the last thing our students with disabilities need. We need to properly fund our public schools and stop undermining them with voucher schemes that strip students with disabilities of the rights and protections that should be theirs in any taxpayer-funded school.

The students of Wisconsin deserve better. And the sooner we can stem this flood of voucher schemes, the better off our students with disabilities will be. That would, indeed, be good riddance.

Pamela DeLap (Oshkosh), Kevin Fech (Cudahy), Terri Hart-Ellis (Whitefish Bay), Amy Polsin (Lowell), Naomi Silver (River Falls), and Kelli Simpkins (Madison) are all members of the statewide grassroots group Stop Special Needs Vouchers.

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SSNV Testimony: U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

27 July 2015

To: The Honorable Ron Johnson (U.S. Senator, Wisconsin)
The Members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

From: The Members of the Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin Steering Committee

Re: “The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: A Pioneer for School Choice Programs Nationwide.”
U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs July 20 hearing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Stop Special Needs Vouchers Wisconsin is a statewide grassroots volunteer group, run by and for families of students with disabilities. We have been advocating since 2012 toward our shared vision for well-funded, inclusive public education for all.

“For all” is a particularly crucial educational element for students with disabilities. Public schools are the only type of schools in Wisconsin that, by law, cannot refuse to educate our children on the basis of disability. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which emerged through passionate advocacy on the part of a previous generation of parents like us, offers our children the right to be educated at their neighborhood public school, no matter how complex their disability might be. When our tax dollars fund public schools, that promise is afforded to all our children.

In Wisconsin’s private voucher schools, by contrast, families of taxpayer-funded students with disabilities forfeit the rights and protections of the IDEA, including the right to a legally-enforceable Individualized Education Plan and the right to have their disability taken into account in an expulsion hearing. Voucher schools need not have special educators or therapists on staff, nor are they currently required to abide by Wisconsin law regulating the harmful practices of seclusion and restraint which are used most heavily on students with special needs.

Even in context of the much narrower legal protections in private voucher schools, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the universal-acceptance provisions of Wisconsin’s voucher law, Wisconsin families of students with special needs have reported disturbing incidents of disability-related discrimination. These families’ experiences of being discouraged from attending voucher schools, or pushed out by failure to provide reasonable accommodations, led to the 2011 disability-discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice by the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin in 2011.

In fact, in 2012-13, nearly 25 percent of students who returned to the Milwaukee public schools from voucher schools — 109 of 420 students — were students with disabilities. Unfortunately the voucher schools have not been required to report apples-to-apples numbers that document how many students with disabilities are actually being served, so that crucial piece of transparency for families is lacking. However, it is clear that Milwaukee’s public schools are faced with ever-increasing challenges of educating the students with disabilities that the voucher schools cannot or will not educate. Overall the Milwaukee public schools now have a concentration of one-in-five students with a disability, with some schools as high as 30%.

In context of the important, ongoing Department of Justice investigation and the fact that families of students with disabilities are required to give up so much – rights, protections, and transparency – when they take a voucher, Stop Special Needs Vouchers continues to strongly object to the expansion of Wisconsin’s voucher programs. Special needs vouchers, which were repeatedly defeated in the regular legislative process in the wake of overwhelming concerns from families like ours and disability organizations across the state, are particularly troubling, now that they have been installed for the 2016/17 school year via a state budget amendment that afforded no opportunity for public hearing or testimony.

Stop Special Needs Vouchers appreciates the opportunity to at least provide written testimony regarding our perspective on the pitfalls of Wisconsin’s voucher programs for students with disabilities. We hope for a process that takes seriously the experiences of students with disabilities and their families, and that strives to uncover and end all disability discrimination in Wisconsin’s voucher programs. The people of Wisconsin deserve no less.

 

Press Release: Disability Slurs Have No Place in Public Discourse, Sen. Johnson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 24, 2015

Madison, WI – Wisconsin families of students with disabilities are still picking their jaws up off the floor, after reading that Senator Ron Johnson used the following slur in reference to Milwaukee students in a radio interview on Monday: “those idiot inner-city kids.”

Once upon a time, the term “idiot” was a medical term of art for individuals with profound cognitive disabilities. However, it became an insulting pejorative and has long been abandoned by the medical community. Parents of students with disabilities would overwhelmingly prefer that the term disappear altogether. For families where cognitive disability is at issue, the term harkens back to a time where such children received no education at all, but lived out their lives apart from their families in segregated institutions.

Even more disturbing was the context in which Sen. Johnson used the term.

The interview in which Sen. Johnson spoke those words was in context of his new-found concern regarding an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice in response to a 2011 complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union and Disability Rights Wisconsin, which highlights multiple families’ experiences of disability discrimination in voucher schools. Rather than taking up the cause of the families whose students experienced such discrimination, Sen. Johnson has instead been criticizing the investigation. The use of the phrase “those idiot inner-city kids” adds further insult to that injury.

Terri Hart-Ellis, whose 12-year-old daughter Addie has an IEP in the Whitefish Bay school district, struggled to find polite words to frame her outrage on her daughter’s behalf. Finally, shaking her head, she simply said: “No, Senator Johnson. Just… no.”

Stop Special Needs Vouchers requests an apology from Senator Johnson on behalf of students with disabilities statewide, an apology that acknowledges the magnitude of the harm caused by language that reinforces discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

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Also online at The Wheeler Report, http://thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/0724vouchers.pdf

 
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Parent Quotes

“The public schools are required to educate everyone, no matter the disability, and private schools don’t have that mandate.” — Joanne from Madison, mother to Miriam

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