Presented February 18, 2013, Stop Special Needs Vouchers press conference at the Capitol in Madison
My name is Donna Pahuski and I live in Cambridge. My children are 24 and 21 years old and they were educated in the Marshall and Cambridge public school districts.
I am here today because of my now 21 year old daughter, Mary. Here is a picture of what she looks like today. This other picture I am holding is my Mary when she was 3 years old and newly diagnosed with autism.
Mary wanted to be here today to tell you how upset she is that the Governor has put special needs vouchers into the budget but she is a college student and could not make the trip. I am speaking on her behalf.
Last year in this very room, I spoke against the Special Needs Voucher Bill, a bill that would have taken some $80 million dollars from Wisconsin public schools, the schools that have helped my daughter get to where she is today.
You see, this child was a hitter, a kicker and a biter. She weighed just 25 pounds but she could bring adults to their knees when she was in a sensory meltdown.
As required by federal and state law, Mary was deemed a child with a disability and she was enrolled into the Marshall School District’s early childhood program. The Marshall district was not a wealthy district but they invested heavily in Mary. Mary’s needs were significant when she began getting school-based services. There were services from fully-trained and licensed: speech and language therapists, a special education teacher with training in autism and an occupational therapist who helped her overcome her debilitating sensory needs. These caring professionals even taught my husband and myself how to deal with Mary’s needs so that she was getting skills practice, not just in school, but everywhere she went with us, her family.
So how did Mary do with that early intervention and specialized education that she received as a result of her Individual Education Plan in public schools? Mary was released from special education after 6th grade. She went on to be involved in sports, band, Science Olympiad and she even had a job most of the way through high school. She is currently a junior in college, planning for a career in the medical field… She even spent a semester abroad in Ecuador last year. I can only imagine where Mary would be today, if her teachers did not have the REQUIRED expertise and training in autism to help her progress.
Now, I myself attended private school for 8 years of my life and I can tell you that there are plenty of good people in those schools. But until private schools are held to the same standard and protections as public schools, many children with special needs will not receive an appropriate education there.
Perhaps that potential outcome is best articulated by Mary’s own words… She said, “My school got it right the first time. They were trained, ready and required by law to address my needs. What if kids with significant needs go to a private school and their staff does not do what Marshall and Cambridge did to help me? Those kids will not get a ‘re-do’ and their early intervention window may be missed; so much could be missed…”
Governor Walker, your state’s public schools were serving children with special needs before it even became public law. We have a proud history of success stories of Wisconsin school children, like my Mary, who have grown up to be fully independent, gainfully employed tax-payers. Do you really think that it is fair to gamble with the futures of our most vulnerable children? I beg you to reconsider, and take the vouchers back out of the budget.