April 2013 budget hearing testimony before the Joint Finance Committee
My name is Mary Swifka and I live in New London. I’m here today because I oppose the special needs voucher provision in the state budget. As a parent of a child with a developmental disability, I feel very strongly that these vouchers are a bad idea. I do not support them and I am asking you to remove the special needs voucher proposal from the budget.
My son Noah is a freshman in the New London school district where he has been learning and thriving since he entered the district’s early childhood program at age three. Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, enacted in 1975, Noah has had the right to learn in a non-segregated setting while benefiting from professional special education teachers and paraprofessionals. He has access to assistive technologies, support from physical and speech therapists, and thrives in a safe learning environment.
Parents fought long and hard for decades to ensure their children with developmental disabilities were given those rights, but every one of those rights may be lost if a family accepts a special needs voucher. Private schools offer very limited accountability for educational quality or outcomes. They’re not regulated like public schools, not required to guarantee that professional special education teachers and therapists will support a child, and laws that protect children from harmful practices such as seclusion and restraint do not apply in private schools. Voucher proposals do not even require private schools to accept children with disabilities. If a parent accepts a voucher to enroll their child in a private school, that school can refuse admission, or worse, accept a child for part of the year, only to turn her back to her home school, keeping the voucher money, and leaving the parents with no right to appeal.
Wisconsin public schools are struggling to recover from the drastic cuts to their budgets in the last two years. Voucher proposals do nothing but siphon public tax dollars from already cash-strapped schools. Small rural districts will be hit especially hard.
Special needs vouchers are a bad choice for Wisconsin and for our children and that is why not one disability rights organization in Wisconsin supports special needs vouchers. I respectfully request that you remove special needs vouchers from the state budget.