Presented February 18, 2013, Stop Special Needs Vouchers press conference at the Capitol in Madison
Good afternoon. My name is Tracy Hedman. I am here with my husband, Peder, and our son, Cyril. Cyril is a 3rd grade student at Parkway Elementary School in the Glendale-River Hills School District. The district is quite small, consisting of approximately one thousand students in two schools, and fosters a sense of community.
Cyril has been a student at Parkway for five years and has thrived there. He is included with his peers and is a true member of the school community. The general and special education teachers, support staff, and administration work hard to support Cyril’s educational needs. Peder and I are full partners on Cyril’s “team” and believe that our hopes and dreams for Cyril’s future are strongly considered when developing Cyril’s education plan.
This is not to say that the last five years have always been smooth sailing. However, due to the protections afforded Cyril under IDEA, Peder and I have always been able to resolve any disputes that have arisen. I believe that working together to resolve a disagreement has only strengthened my family’s relationship with school staff. I also believe the outcome would have been far different if Cyril attended a school that was not obligated to follow IDEA.
I frequently attend school board meetings and am aware that my district has been forced to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the budget every year, at least since my son has been attending. However, Parkway still provides excellent special education services and has even managed to change their model and includes all students, even those with significant disabilities, in the school community.
My biggest concern regarding special needs vouchers is the potential negative effect on Parkway and consequently, Cyril’s education and his ability to be not only a member of the school community but the greater community. Vouchers divert much needed taxpayer funds from our public schools into private schools. Funding is always precarious in a small district such as mine. Any draining of resources has the potential to be devastating for my small school district and in particular Cyril and the other children left in the public school. I fear that any further erosion of special education funding would force my district to return to the days of segregated class rooms where my son will no longer be able to attend class with his friends or have access to the general curriculum.
In addition, private schools do not have to accept children with disabilities and often accept only those with minimal special education needs. This will have the effect of leaving the children with the most significant special education needs, including Cyril, in the public schools that have been drained of their special education funding.
Special needs vouchers do not belong in the state budget. Governor Walker, please reconsider.