Presentation at Stop Special Needs Vouchers listening session in Milwaukee, 4/11/2013
My name is Jenny Stonemeier. I am the parent of 2 school aged children who attend Milwaukee Public Schools. I am the spouse of an MPS educator, a founding board member of Parents for Public Schools, Milwaukee, and I am committed to insuring that all children have access to a high quality public education.
That commitment compels me to oppose the Governor’s proposal to create Special Needs Vouchers. My son is 12, he’s in the 6th grade, and he has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has been receiving the supports and services of special education for the past 4 school years. My son spends 100% of his school day participating in the so-called regular classroom with his non-disabled peers, he participates fully in the general education curriculum, and he is a genuine member of his school community.
Special Education exists because of a federal law that requires schools to provide students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum in the “Least Restrictive Environment.” That environment is the general education classroom with the entire school population. My son is first and foremost a “general education” student and that means that ALL of the professionals who support him need to meet his needs in the classroom.
Just like every other profession, education is a constantly changing landscape that includes best practices and quality instruction. These changes demand that all educators stay informed about how best to meet their students’ needs. This requires access to on-going high quality professional development, and that costs money.
Because my son is identified as having a disability, his school receives an extra per pupil allocation—extra money. The principal at his school has the flexibility to use that money in a way that will best position her staff to provide my son with the Free and Appropriate Public Education that he is entitled to.
When my child’s educators are better equipped to support his needs, they are also better equipped to support the needs of all of the children in their classroom. When our educators are better equipped, our children thrive, our schools thrive and our community thrives.
What I’m saying is that, the special education money that comes with my child’s identification can be used to benefit every child in the classroom and every teacher in the school. Special Needs Vouchers will take money away from public schools, money that can and should be used to support every child in that school building, money that can be used to benefit the entire school community. Public education is based on a fundamental value of community.
When you take public dollars away from a public setting, we are devaluing all members of that community. Special Needs Vouchers will literally and figuratively devalue public education. We cannot attempt to fix an imperfect machine by continuing to take away individual cogs and gears. It is only by fully supporting the entire system that we can make meaningful and impactful change.
We must stop Special Needs Vouchers!!